November 30, 2009 / 10:32 PM / 10 years ago

Soda can tabs still a swallowing hazard for kids

CHICAGO (Reuters Health) - Kids are swallowing more than just their soda when they drink from cans. They are also swallowing the can’s aluminum stay tabs, Ohio investigators reported here at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA 2009).

Nearly 35 years ago, accidental swallowing of beverage can pull tabs by children prompted the industry to make the cans safer, and create stay tabs, which remain attached to the can after opening. Unfortunately, accidental ingestions still occur, said Dr. Lane F. Donnelly, radiologist-in-chief at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

After he saw a child who had swallowed a stay tab, Donnelly decided to investigate how often such accidental ingestions happen.

“I was surprised that this happened with the stay tabs, but I guess I shouldn’t have been, given that you can wiggle them off and inadvertently drop them in the can,” he told Reuters Health.

He and his colleagues reviewed all radiology reports over a 16-year period from their center that documented cases of self-reported or witnessed ingestion of a stay tab by a child. X-rays of the chest, stomach, and neck were taken in all cases to rule out that kids hadn’t swallowed other “foreign bodies” and also to see how many tabs were visible.

They identified 19 cases, with only 4 visible on X ray - not unexpected, given that aluminum doesn’t usually show up on X-rays.

Most of the accidental swallowers were teenagers.

“This makes sense because the kids who are sitting around drinking out of soda cans are going to be older. They fiddle with the tab, break it off, drop it in the can, forget they’ve dropped it in the can, and then swallow it. Or play with it in their mouth and swallow it by mistake,” he said.

All 19 cases were managed without significant effort, but any of them could have caused serious issues such as obstruction and tears in the bowel.

Parents should be educated that stay tabs pose a swallowing hazard and they should warn their children to be careful, Donnelly said.

Radiologists can learn from this, too, he added. “Just because you can’t see the tab doesn’t mean it isn’t there, so you should not (doubt) that someone has just swallowed one of these just because you can’t see it on an x-ray. Those kids should be monitored as you would any child who swallows a foreign body.”

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