Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Parents warned over 'rising' cases of children swallowing dangerous objects

Doctors said coins, batteries and magnets were the most common items ingested

An X-ray of a series of magnetic balls in a child's stomach.
An X-ray of a series of magnetic balls in a child's stomach.

Parents and carers of young children must do more to prevent toddlers swallowing dangerous objects, UAE doctors have said.

Medics said the troubling issue could have potentially deadly consequences and that cases in the Emirates appeared to be on the rise.

Anecdotal evidence suggests private and public hospitals across the country now see an average of one child a day who has swallowed a foreign object.

Coins are the most common item ingested, followed by small batteries and magnets.

In the worst cases, children have died after choking on objects or have suffered long-term damage to their oesophagus or intestine.

“What’s upsetting is these [cases] are all preventable,” said Dr David Rawat, consultant gastroenterologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) in Abu Dhabi.

“There needs to be an increase in public awareness. Parents and carers need to be more careful in monitoring young children.

“In my 12 years’ experience as a consultant in the UK, we would get around three to four calls a year. Here [in the UAE] there’s a vast difference.”

An X-ray showing two of the magnetic spheres in a child's stomach.
An X-ray showing two of the magnetic spheres in a child's stomach.

In a series of interviews with The National, UAE doctors described some of the most harrowing cases of young children swallowing unsafe objects.

Last year, a five-year-old arrived in hospital having ingested air-conditioning fluid, resulting in serious burns the length of her oesophagus.

And earlier this month, a three-week-old infant was admitted to SKMC after swallowing a battery given to her by her sister. She may never be able to swallow normally again.

On Monday, medics revealed that youngsters aged between three months and three years were the most susceptible to swallowing dangerous objects.

They said there had been at least two deaths in the UAE this year, both of which were the result of battery ingestion.

The small, disc-shaped varieties are considered the most dangerous by experts as heat generated by their powerful electric charge can cause serious burns.

Last month, an Abu Dhabi doctor called for a ban on a popular magnetic toy after more than half a dozen children suffered injuries swallowing them.

Dr Iftikhar Jan, head of paediatric surgery at Mafraq Hospital in the capital, said he was aware of at least eight cases where youngsters had been rushed to emergency rooms suffering severe abdominal pain.

“The number of children coming to hospital after swallowing magnets is increasing,” he said.

Dr Shahinaz Gouda, head of the emergency department at Medcare Women and Children Hospital in Dubai, said they received two or three cases of children swallowing coins each week.

“The common age for foreign body ingestion is between three months and three years,” she said. “Children should be closely watched at all times.”

Speaking to The National, the mother of Jawaher Al Mohain, aged three, described the moment she had found her daughter blue in the face.

Magnetic spheres that can be easily swallowed.
Magnetic spheres that can be easily swallowed.

Two weeks ago, the youngster swallowed an earring made by the creators of the popular children’s cartoon Hello Kitty.

“She was in the living room watching TV and I had left her for a few minutes to change,” her mother, who did not want to be named, said.

“When I went back to see her she was blue in the face and looked dead.”

“Thankfully it caused no harm but that isn't always the case,” said Dr Rawat, who dealt with the emergency.

“Parents and carers need to be more sensible in the home environment and ensure that dangerous objects are not accessible to children.”

Dr Rawat added that the rising numbers of cases was placing an unnecessary burden on the UAE’s healthcare system.

He also warned that repeated X-rays on children risked exposing them to needless doses of radiation.

“This is completely preventable if parents and carers are more careful in their monitoring of children,” he said.

Updated: August 26, 2019 07:58 PM

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