What to do if your child swallowed a penny, or any other coin
The most important thing: if you have time to check the computer after your child swallowed a penny, your child is probably not in danger. Normally, what happens when you swallow a penny is that it passes through the digestive system in a few days.
Occasionally, the penny will get stuck on the way, and this is the most important thing to watch for.
Monitor your child’s breathing
If the coin gets stuck above the windpipe, the child will have trouble breathing. This is the biggest danger that swallowing a coin presents. A choking child is in immediate distress, so you probably wouldn’t have time to do this research!
- A child who is choking may:
- Grab at his or her throat
- Have trouble breathing or talking
- Make high-pitched sounds from the throat
- Softly cough or gasp
- Start turning blue
- Fall unconscious
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 or get your child to the emergency room immediately. Time is of the essence, so first aid for the choking child is crucial.
If your child isn’t having trouble breathing, the dangers are far less extreme, and you have the time to deal with them. You should still contact your child’s physician to make sure he or she is aware of the situation. You may need to take your child in for an X-ray to locate the coin and make sure there is no danger.
Watch for trouble swallowing
The esophagus is the tightest part of the digestive tract, so the next most likely place for the coin to get stuck is above the stomach.
The swallowed penny may be stuck above the stomach if the child:
- Has chest or stomach pain
- Is unwilling or unable to swallow
- Dribbles or drools
- Begins vomiting
- Develops a fever
These symptoms may not appear immediately, so watch for the signs for the next few days.
If the coin is lodged in the esophagus, a doctor may choose to perform an endoscopy to remove the coin. This is where the doctor sends a small tube down the child’s throat to find and remove the coin. This is normally an outpatient procedure, and should not be dangerous for your child.
Watch for stomach discomfort
If your child swallowed a penny and it makes it to the stomach, 90% of the time it will pass through the digestive system normally after that.
The child’s physician will probably tell you to check the child’s stool for the next two or three days and you should find the coin. If you don’t see the coin after about five days, it may have gotten stuck in either the stomach or the intestines.
Of the two, the intestines are the most dangerous, and can lead to a bowel obstruction. This happens when the intestines are blocked and nothing can move past.
A child with a bowel obstruction may:
- Complain of stomach pain
- Have swelling around the abdomen
- Have low or no appetite
- Develop a fever
The glorious lives of doctors: If your child has a bowel obstruction, a physician can perform an endoscopy from the other end to remove the coin. This is why doctors live in much bigger houses than you or I do!
If your child swallowed a penny and is showing any of these signs, you'll want to notify the physician.
Preventing long-term risks
If you haven’t seen the coin for several days, but your child is not exhibiting any troubling symptoms, the penny has probably settled in the stomach. This is not immediately dangerous, but there are some risks.
What happens if you swallow a penny minted after 1982? In this year, zinc was added to the metal composition of pennies. Zinc can interact with stomach acids, and these pennies have been tied to an increased risk of stomach ulcers.
If the coin is stuck in the stomach, the child’s physician may choose to remove it to prevent long-term risks and provide peace of mind.
In the United States, coins are the most common items for a child to swallow. As long as your child doesn’t exhibit any warning signs, and the physician is aware that your child swallowed a penny, you don’t need to worry.
You need a quick answer when your child swallowed a penny or any other foreign object. For your medical questions, the Experts on JustAnswer are a fast and affordable alternative to scheduling a physician’s visit.
Do you have any tips or advice to share with other parents after dealing with a child swallowing a coin? Please share with us in the comments below.