Children, awfully curious creatures, are fond of putting things in their mouths. But what happens if they accidentally swallow the objects they are playing with? writes Violet Nabatanzi
Six-year-old Hawa cried in agony after she accidentally swallowed a sh200 coin at her home in Kabalagala. On Thursday morning, Hawa’s mother, Esther Nalumansi, woke up in a jolly mood. She gave Hawa the coin so she could buy something to eat and be happy.
Little did she know that the coin would lead them to Mulago Hospital.
On the fateful day the girl did not go to school. Instead, she spent the day with relatives. When she got bored, she picked up the coin and swallowed it.
Hawa kept quiet after swallowing the coin, but her face was distorted with discomfort. When her mother arrived home, Hawa confided that she was feeling pain in her throat because she had swallowed the coin.
Nalumansi tried to force her finger down her daughter’s throat, but failed. She decided to rush the girl to Mulago Hospital for surgery.
Sophie Nalunkuma, a mother of five, faced the same problem when her son who was then in nursery school picked up a sh50 coin from the sideboard and accidentally swallowed it.
His elder brother told their mother what had happened, but Nalunkuma just gave the little boy bananas to make his stool soft. She waited until the boy went to defecate and picked the coin from his stool.
In many cases, when a child swallows a coin, it makes its way down to the colon and gets stuck in the stool; then it gets passed out. In the majority of cases, no harm is done to the child.
If the coin is stuck, symptoms of distress include drooling, inability to swallow or pain when swallowing, vomiting, chest and neck pain.
If the coin gets stuck in the intestines, it can tear the walls. Symptoms can include abnormal bowel sounds or blood in the stool.
What medical experts say
Dr. Umar Kasule from Mulago Hospital’s Ear Nose and Throat Department, says the hospital receives one or two children daily who have swallowed foreign bodies. Sometimes the number is as high as five children.
He says because of the limited number of surgeons and equipment in hospitals upcountry, many of the patients come from as far as northern and western regions for surgery.
The only treatment to remove the foreign body, such as a coin, in a patient, is to carry out endoscopic surgery. Also known as endoluminal surgery, it is one of the most advanced techniques used in surgery.
Endoscopic surgery uses the body’s natural OPENINGS, for example, the mouth and anus, to access the parts that need to be operated upon.
Kasule says the hospital has not registered any cases of death as a result of foreign bodies. Surgery at Mulago Hospital is carried out free of charge. However, in private hospitals, it cost up to sh500,000.
Kasule says most of the children who have been operated on because they swallowed foreign objects are discharged the day after surgery.
Protecting your children from choking
Traditionally, when children swallow bones from food while eating, say, a fish bone, they are given a lump of kalo (millet bread) to swallow, in the hope that the bone will get attached and somehow slide down the throat — it may work, it may not work.
Then there are objects like buttons, toys, batteries and small magnets. Bottom line: if the swallowed object does not come out with fecal matter, the child might be in danger. Objects that contain chemicals like batteries can lead to intestinal damage or even death.
When buying toys, make sure they are big enough not to be swallowed, or that they do not have parts that are small enough to end up in the mouth, at least for the child who is not old enough to understand the danger.
Sewing boxes that have buttons should be kept far away, preferably, where the child cannot reach.
Comb the floor for anything that might have fallen on the ground.
Supervise toddlers and small children while they eat and play — they like to experiment.
Cut all food into small pieces, and remove sharp or small bones. from fish, chicken and meat before giving them to your child.
Try to wait until your child is four years old before letting her eat small lollies, even as a treat.
Avoid glitter, glue and small beadwork.
Teach older siblings that a baby’s ears and nose are delicate, and that they’re not for poking things into.
Check the floor and low tables for pieces of jewellery, dried peas and other small objects.
Also, avoid putting things in your mouth. Children learn by seeing. They could copy you.
objects, are discharged the day after surgery.