What Non-Food Objects Do Kids Swallow? Coins Mostly.

We crunched the numbers on everything kids swallowed or shoved into their bodies in 2016. It ain't pretty.

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As a child explore the wonders of this world and the miracle that is their body, they may come to shove small building blocks into their penises. Yes, that happens. Yes, it’s been documented. Yes, data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System is deeply disturbing.

NEISS numbers document just about every injury that makes it to the emergency room in the U.S. each year. NEISS sorts its data by demographic (age, sex, race) and also by injury type, with a complex series of item codes and body part codes. But within that dataset, there’s something far more valuable — or, at least, more entertaining — than broad public health trends. There’s information on precisely what items kids put into their bodies each year and where they put them.

We crunched the numbers from 2016. We kind of regret it.

If Your Kid Swallows Something, It’ll Probably Be A Coin Or A Battery

The NEISS data contains 1,321 cases of Americans under age 18 who stuck foreign bodies into their various orifices in 2016 (data from 2017 is not yet available, but we’ll be back next year folks). A 23-month-old put a brush bristle in her ear; a five-year-old got an eraser stuck in her nose; a 20-month-old glued her eye shut with cyanoacrylate nail glue. But swallowing is by far the most common way kids get object stuck inside themselves. So let’s focus there. Our data analysis suggests parents should be most worried about coins and batteries — but that enterprising kids also manage to swallow pretty much anything they can fit in their mouths. Including nails, tacks, desk supplies, and flatware.

Older Kids Eat Jewelry

We’d love to tell you it gets better as your kids get older, but it really doesn’t. Sure, your 10-year-old is unlikely to swallow a penny. But the NEISS data suggests kids are about as likely to swallow coins at four months as they are at four years. Across all age groups, coin swallowing remains king. But the data points to a downward trend in battery ingestion as kids grow older, a passion they appear to replace with verve for imbibing more valuable earrings. Aren’t kids great? It’s also noteworthy that older kids, between the ages of 3 and 5, seem to have figured out that swallowing sharp objects is a bad idea—nails and tacks don’t even appear on their top five list of most-swallowed items. Took them long enough.

Where To Put Legos When Your Mouth Is Unavailable

True, kids mostly put foreign bodies in their mouths. But lest we forget those who found ways to shove objects into their noses, ears, eyes, and genitals — we made a chart for them too. The data suggests that the most popular non-mouth place to put an object is in the ear (possibly skewed by the fact that earrings cause a good number of injuries), followed closely by the nose. Surprisingly few children actually stuck items into their genitals, but those who did deserve honorable mention. It is noteworthy that we were forced to exclude all incidents of children putting items in their anuses because NEISS (perhaps predicting that this is what we’d do with their data) buries that information amidst all other “lower trunk” injuries. But it’s not an impossible nut to crack. Perhaps crunching those numbers will be our next project.

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