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Penny-Pinching Kids Get Ulcers

A penny saved may be a penny earned, but what about a penny swallowed?

CBS This Morning Health and Medicine Contributor Dr. Emily Senay reports that children made more than 21,000 trips to the emergency room after swallowing coins in the last year alone.

Choking is a big concern in such cases. But a recent report says that swallowing a penny can also cause stomach ulcers.

Pennies made from 1982 on are made of zinc, a material that reacts strongly with acid. If such a penny does not pass through a child's digestive tract and is lodged in the stomach, gastric acid will eventually cause the zinc to break down, creating a combination that can cause ulcers.

What should you do if your child swallows a penny?

  • Don't panic. Most pennies will pass right through.
  • Check your child's stool for the next few days. If the coin doesn't appear, talk to your pediatrician.
  • If necessary, arrange for a simple X-ray. That can locate the penny and tell the doctor whether it has started to corrode, a sign that it needs to be removed immediately.

As many parents know, it is sometimes difficult to know whether your child has swallowed a coin. Remember, in most of these cases, even if the child has swallowed a coin, it passes right through with no lasting effects.

If the child becomes lethargic or complains of stomach pain or poor appetite or vomits, take the child right to the emergency room or call the pediatrician immediately.

The zinc problem occurs only with pennies. The other U.S. coins are made of nickel so the same problem doesn't exist.

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