My Child Just Swallowed A (insert non-food item here)!

By Melissa Sheiko, MD

By Melissa Sheiko, MD

I have a favorite radio commercial of all time. It started playing last year, and I cried the first time I heard it:

[A Kid’s voice] Hot irons, Grandma’s pills,

Sharp objects, power drills,

Button batteries, power boards,

Bleach bottles, curtains, cords...

[Announcer] Kids don’t recognize household dangers for the risk they are. The same goes for laundry pods. Remember to keep Tide pods out of the reach of children. Keep them up, keep them closed, keep them safe. A message from Tide.”

Why did I cry?

Because as a pediatric gastroenterologist, I’ve seen serious injuries from laundry detergent pod ingestions and have seen children die from sharp object and button battery ingestions. There are so many things in a house that can injure children, and I didn’t realize until I had my own children how difficult it is to keep these objects away from them. There are an estimated 116,000 foreign body ingestions in the US annually, and 80% of these are in kids. 

The most common objects that I have to take out of children by using a scope are coins.  This is super frustrating to most parents because coins are everywhere. They fall out of everyone’s pockets, and they are randomly on the sidewalk or in your couch. The other items that frequently have to come out are sharp objects (safety pins, push pins, nails, and toothpicks), long objects (pencils and toothbrushes), and multiple magnets. Multiple magnets can stick together through layers of intestines and cause holes. The rare earth magnets (like Bucky Balls) are especially prone to doing this.

Ingestion recommendations

(not all inclusive because there are thousands of things a kid can ingest). Poison control is a great resource for questions.  The Oregon Poison Center can be reached at 800.222.1222.  These recommendations are only for items that are swallowed. If your child seemed to get anything in their breathing tube (trachea) and is having any difficulty breathing, call 911. For swallowed items, do not try to remove the object yourself or try to make the child vomit. If in doubt, err on the side of caution, especially with small children who often can’t tell you exactly what they ate.

When to go to the emergency room immediately

Your child ingests: 

  • Button batteries
  • Sharp objects
  • Multiple magnets
  • They have symptoms (stomach pain, vomiting, spitting up their saliva, they feel like it’s stuck)
  • Long objects (greater than bobby pin size)
  • Objects quarter-sized or larger
  • Expanding materials (like tampons)
  • Poisons
  • Detergent pods

When to go to a Pediatric Urgent Care

Your child ingests: 

  • A single magnet (need to confirm there is just one)
  • A penny, dime or nickel less than 24 hrs ago and doesn’t have any symptoms
  • Not sure if they swallowed anything or not but they are not having symptoms and you're sure it wasn't one of the dangerous items listed above.
Button batteries are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS if swallowed

Button batteries are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS if swallowed


Melissa Sheiko, MD

Northwest Pediatric Gastroenterology

300 N. Graham St. Suite 420

Portland, OR 97227


Dr. Sheiko is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist in Portland.  She and Dr. Fish attended medical school together at the University of Washington School of Medicine.  Dr. Sheiko went on to train in Pediatrics and Pediatric Gastroenterology at Denver Children's Hospital in Denver, CO.  She lives in Portland with her two kids and husband.  Her greatest wish is to ski as well as Dr. Fish.

Corey FishSwallowed Objects