Your Kid Swallowed What?

Find out which objects should be cause for concern when they wind up in your kid's mouth.
You walked out of the room for a second to answer the phone and returned to find your young child puffy-cheeked. Gulp. What went down your kid's throat, and what should you do?
We'll tell you which items warrant a call to the doctor, and which ones don't.
--By Jean Weiss for MSN Healthy Living
1 of 17 Getty Images


They're colorful and appealing. Who wouldn't want to put Play-Doh or crayons in her mouth to see if they taste as good as they look? Fortunately, Play-Doh and crayons are items designed to be safe. "Play-Doh and crayons are non-toxic, that is the good news," says Gary Smith, M.D., Dr.Ph., associate professor of pediatrics, emergency medicine and epidemiology at Ohio State University. The problem, he says, is the risk of choking on large chunks of either. "Younger kids don't have chewing ability," says Smith. So you do need to supervise, but you don't need to worry about toxicity if you find your child chewing a rainbow.
2 of 17 Anna Yu | Getty Images

Pet food

Your pet is a favorite family member, and the dog and cat dish are within a baby's crawl zone. So of course your babe is going to be curious about what the kitty or puppy are eating. "Pet food carries the same risk as Play-Doh and crayons," says Smith. "It's not going to be toxic. But if it's the right size and shape to block the airway, you do need to be concerned." Your child will be fine if a little pet food or saliva-laden water has made it from the animal bowl to her mouth, but you may want to buy food that comes in smaller chunks until your child is older.

3 of 17 Richard Drury | Getty Images

Human hairballs

Toddlers often suck on their hair as a self-comforting activity, but this habit can lead to trouble. The risk is that your child could eventually form a hairball in her stomach. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen to some kids. "Eating hair is not uncommon," says Smith. "You don't want them to suck on their hair. It could form what we call a hair bezoar." This is a fancy word for a mass of something trapped in the stomach or gastrointestinal system. "Most of the time, small amounts of hair will pass through, and won't stick in your stomach," says Smith. But sometimes if enough hair is swallowed, a hairball can form and is difficult to get out.

4 of 17 Phil Ashley |Getty Images


Brushing is good. Eating toothpaste is not. But it's not something to worry about if your toddler swallows a little while brushing, or you find your baby sucking on the end of a tube. "Toothpaste is non-toxic, so you are not going to have problems with that," says Smith. Toothpastes made from natural ingredients that don't contain fluoride are safer than those with fluoride. "Most things like toothpaste in small amounts aren't toxic," says Smith.
5 of 17 Howard Shooter | Getty Images


It's not bad to eat protein, just gross if the protein source is a dead fly. If your child has swallowed a bug by accident or on purpose (such as house flies, beetles, gnats), don't worry. A few creepy crawlers here and there won't hurt. "Although most people find eating insects unappealing, it's usually not a health risk," says Smith. Insects to watch out for are bees and wasps because of their stingers, poisonous spiders, and blood-carrying mosquitoes.

6 of 17 TommL | Getty Images


If you've ever changed an explosive diaper, then you know how your child could get some poop in her mouth. Not to worry. The likelihood of that poop containing something serious, such as the hepatitis virus, is slim, says Smith. "Poop is just organic matter that has been digested," says Smith. "As unaesthetic as that is, it doesn't carry consequences other than that it contains bacteria." Your child probably won't get anything worse than diarrhea as her body reacts to the bacteria. Problems could arise, though, if she's sampled animal poop, which can contain harmful types of bacteria and parasites. "If that were to happen, then a different red flag would go up," says Smith. That's worth a call to the doctor.

7 of 17 Farhad J Parsa | Getty Images


Gum is not for babies or toddlers, says Smith, but if your child has gum in her mouth, or has swallowed gum, she's probably okay. "Gum is non-toxic," says Smith. "The thing we worry about more is choking. Gum can conform to and block an airway. Most of the time when kids are ingesting things, there is a swallow reflex that will take that gum down the esophagus." If gum is swallowed, it doesn't stay in your stomach for years and years, as many of us were told when we were growing up. "Gum should pass through the digestive system, just like anything else," says Smith.

8 of 17 Jonelle Weaver | Getty Images

Dirt, grass or plants

Getting a face full of dirt. Chewing a little grass. Eating a couple of dandelions. This is all normal stuff for kids. "Dirt and grass are usually not a problem," says Smith. "There are some plants that can cause local irritation; there are others that can be outright poisonous. But most yard plants are safe. When in doubt, call the Poison Control Center for advice." An exception would be if the lawn has been treated with pesticides. Be sure to check, because a lawn where pesticides have been applied could poison your child, and have also been linked to the later development of illnesses including Parkinson's.

9 of 17 Robbert Koene | Getty Images

Nails, pins, needles and tacks

If your child has swallowed a safety pin or other sharp item, call your family doctor or go to the emergency room. But you don't necessarily need to panic. "Most of the time the item will pass on its own without complications," says Smith. The risk is that the item may puncture your child's esophagus, allowing bacteria to leak into her chest.
Doctors will order an X-ray to find out where the item is. Once it reaches the stomach, it usually passes uneventfully. If all looks good, they'll send you home to watch and wait for any signs or symptoms of any possible complications, such as a fever or belly pain. "Even if a child has swallowed an open safety pin or a straight pin, we'll typically try to follow it through the system," says Smith. "Most items will pass within two to four days. If parents really want to make sure it has come all the way through, they can strain their child's stool or look for it in the diaper."
10 of 17 Michael Wildsmith | Getty Images