What to Do if Your Child Swallows a Penny

Your child swallowing a coin or other object is scary, but most kids come out fine. Acting fast and seeking medical attention helps minimize issues.

Babies, toddlers and preschoolers keep you on your toes with their tendency to pop anything they find in their mouths. You know how fast your little one is, so it's no surprise that you can't always catch the situation before he swallows the mystery object. Swallowing a penny can sometimes be an emergency situation, but many kids swallow the small coins and pass them on their own with no major issues. Quickly evaluate the situation to figure out your next move.

Emergency Situations

It's important to know when swallowing a foreign object is an emergency situation that warrants a call to 9-1-1 or a trip straight to the emergency room. Any time your child is in distress and can't breathe well, you need to seek immediate medical care.

Signs that your child needs help right away include:

  • Difficulty breathing, talking or crying
  • Wheezing or other sounds with breathing that aren't normal
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing without being able to clear her airways
  • Drooling or excess saliva
  • Gagging
  • Pain in the neck, throat or chest
  • Lost consciousness

Determining if the Object Is Stuck

Your child can swallow a penny without it getting stuck. It ends up in the tummy and eventually passes in his stools. But sometimes the coin can get stuck in the esophagus. Your child can probably still breathe, but he may have pain or other distressful symptoms.

If the penny gets stuck, your child may feel pain in his neck, throat or chest area. He might feel the sensation of the penny being stuck. Spitting, gagging, drooling and excess saliva are also common symptoms that tell you the penny may be lodged in the esophagus. In younger kids, excessive crying or fussiness can signal an issue. Call your child's doctor or take him to the ER or doctor's office if you suspect the penny is stuck.

What to Do

If your child is breathing fine and has no strange symptoms, it's tempting to wait to see if the penny passes. While most small coins like pennies pass within a few days, it's always a good idea to take your child to your pediatrician's office in a non-emergency coin-swallowing situation. That way your doctor can evaluate the situation, and determine if anything needs to be done right now.

You should also see the doctor if you're not sure what your child swallowed. Button batteries are particularly dangerous when swallowed. They can burn holes in the esophagus in a relatively short period of time. Sharp objects and magnets are also potentially dangerous. Rule out the dangerous possibilities with a trip to the pediatrician.

Never sweep your finger into your child mouth or throat to get the penny out. You may lodge it further and get it stuck or cause damage. It's also best not to give your child syrup of ipecac to make her vomit the coin. This method doesn't work to get foreign objects out of the stomach or esophagus.

Treatment Options

An X-ray is a common first step in evaluating the situation once you arrive at the pediatrician's office. The imaging test lets the doctor confirm that the penny was swallowed and where it is currently located. If the penny is stuck in the esophagus, the doctor may decide to remove it, so it doesn't end up in the windpipe or cause damage to the esophagus. Expect the procedure to happen in an operating room with anesthesia.

If the penny is in the stomach or intestines, the doctor will likely suggest waiting to see if it passes. If it doesn't pass in three to five days, you may need to head back to the doctor's office to see what's happening. Some doctors do followup X-rays to see if the penny is lodged. Call your pediatrician if your child starts experiencing abdominal pain, vomiting, cramps or blood in his stools. This can be a sign of damage or other issues caused by the coin while waiting for it to pass.

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