Child Swallowed Glow Stick

Updated on November 30, 2011
T.S. asks from San Mateo, CA
18 answers

OK, this was a total freak accident but my 5 yr old at a party at a campground clubhouse was playing with glow sticks, as were all the kids with the lights out when he started gagging. I looked over at him, realized what was wrong by the glow inside his mouth and carried him to a quiet light corner to better see what had happened. As far as we could tell, swallowed the entire glow stick. Because of potential airway issues, we called 911. The fire truck came and said, we can't do anything, we don't have the tools. Wait for the paramedics, when the paramedics came, they said, we can't do anything, you need to go to the ER. He is still very upset, crying etc but breathing OK. so no immediate emergency, but I was not going to take the chance. Into the ambulance we went, off to the hospital 3 miles away. Even though my dad or brother or anyone could have driven us. Then enroute, the paramedic says, we called ahead to the hospital and they say, since we are a local small hospital, you need to go to a children's hospital ER 35 miles away. Again, the question, do you want to drive yourselves or continue on in the ambulance while adding, these glow sticks are toxic, so you need to get to a hospital. What do I know? Again, I am not taking any chances so off we go, courtesy of AMR. When we arrive at ER, we are not seen for 1 hour, they check with poison control etc. then DR comes in to say, there is nothing we can do. Can't take an Xray, it is plastic so won't show up. It is not toxic, You just have to wait for it to pass...huh? was this a scam and we were just paranoid parents? what would you have done? by the way, it still hasn't passed it which his pediatrician said could take 7 days. I can't wait for the bill and wonder what the insurance company will say about whether this was an emergency or not.

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answers from Philadelphia on

how big is it? id go to another er...that seems dangerous, they dont bend couldn't it tear the intestines while passing through or create a very serious obstruction? I swallowed a penny when I was 3 and they x-rayed M. and even with something that tiney i remember being monitored

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answers from Lakeland on

Can the hospital put one of those small cameras down his throat to see if it is still in his stomach? I would be very concerned about it getting stuck in his intestines. Plastic is toxic, his stomach acid will be breaking it down and some will go through his body. Some doctors are such idiots. I think they sometimes don’t want to be bothered.
How big was this glow stick anyway that he could swallow it whole?

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answers from Portland on

I do not think this was a scam. The medical people had to err on the side of safety. They didn't know what a glow stick would do. A larger ER would have more resources. Medical people would never even have considered the possibility in school or in experience. That is why it took so long in the ER. They were working to find out all they could about glow sticks.

I don't understand how your son could swallow a glow stick. Every one that I've seen would be too large. Are you sure he swallowed it? Perhaps he coughed it up when he was gagging and in the excitement you didn't notice?

I would have done the same as you.

I predict that the insurance company will honor the bill.

In response to another poster. If he doesn't pass it, talk with his doctor. It is no longer an emergency and does not require a visit to the ER. Stay on top of it. Don't let it last until there is compaction.

In response to the glow stick doing damage, I took a mental patient to a court hearing. She had swallowed a razor blade. The doctor said that she would safely pass it through her intestines. The judge allowed her to go home. This same woman had swallowed other things earlier. One time it was a toothbrush. Went through without incident.

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answers from Minneapolis on

If you're talking about the glow sticks like the ones sold at Target in the dollar bin...the ones big enough to make a necklace if connected to another of the same size, how on earth can anyone pass this through their intestines without serious damage?! Even if it is one the size for a small bracelet, they are stiff and filled with that chemical. How on earth is that supposed to make its way through the esophogus let alone the intestines?

I'm stunned they sent you home!! If I were in your shoes, I'd be finding another hospital and keep pushing for some action until you get some. Expense or not, coverage or no coverage, it sounds like you unfortunately got taken to some backward clinic in the middle of nowhere with some scary country doctors who can't tell the difference between treating a human and treating bovine.

Is your child comfortable? Can he talk? Can he feel it? My gosh, 2 years ago my then 13 year old Lab accidentally swallowed a soup spoon whole and because at one end it was so wide, it became caught right at the sphincter muscle that opens the stomach to the intestines. He was fine for a little while, but quickly was very uncomfortable as the spoon tried to make its way past that muscle into the intestines.

They took an x-ray on an old dog that should have been put to sleep! They told us there is no way anything that stiff would pass through the intestines without damage, excessive bleeding (which can cause complications), the possiblity of torsion (which is fatal) or a puncture (which is also fatal). The only way to ensure saving the dog's life would have been surgery. All of this for an old dog! What gives with the doctors you saw that day? We're talking about a child!

We couldn't afford it, and by some freak miracle, my mother told us it is possible to give dogs the Heimlich maneuver. As a last ditch effort, we said a whole of lot prayers (my husband loved that dog!) because the vet had scheduled an euthanasia, my husband did the Heimlich on the dog. The spoon came flying out and the dog's life was spared.

To this day our vet has our dog's x-ray on the wall and talks about this freak miracle dog. That dog lived to be 15, which is really old for his breed. That was 2 years past the time he swallowed the spoon.

I guess the point of this story is 1.) If a straight inflexible object was deemed impassable in a dog, I don't think a glow stick is any different in child even if it has some flexibility to it. It is afterall plastic. 2.) They told us surgery was the only option without complications or death. I know your son is not an animal, but animals and humans are often faced with similar medical challenges and the solutions are often similar, perhaps your ER doctors and pediatricians did a sloppy job and shouldn't be trusted. Do they even know what a glow stick looks like? Did you have a sample for them to look at? Perhaps that stick needs to be removed now before it starts trying to travel through your son's system. 3.) I wouldn't give up, but exhaust all options. If we had taken our vet's word, our dog wouldn't have lived an additional 2 years, or he would have had surgery but been seriously challenged with digestive issues for the remainder of his life (so we were told).

I just think you need to find 2nd or 3rd opinions on this. I'm mortified for you and your child that he is left to sit around and wait for some stiff, chemical filled piece of plastic to "maybe" pass through his delicate little system.

Eventually, if this doesn't move it will create a blockage if he continues to eat and drink like normal.

As for your question...heck yeah, I would have done the same thing! And no I wouldn't let insurance be an obstacle. I think you got sh*&%y medical care from everyone one involved in responding to your case. Now that you are back home, are you closer to a better Children's hospital or regional hospital with the right facilities and more competent doctors? I really think you need to get better answers than to wait 7 days! That might be too late.

I'd also be contacting the company that makes those things and file a report, I'd contact your local consumer protection agency and report it (so these can get recalled off the shelves) and I'd be calling the store headquarters also. If your child swallowed one, any child could swallow one. In fact, there may be other cases...wouldn't you want to know the outcome and what is being done about it? I certainly would!

I'm sorry I'm going on...but I'm outraged for you that this has happend and now you and your child are left with no help or support whatsoever. Please, find another hospital and get an x-ray, a cat-scan, a esophogial camera scope (sp?) MRI or ultrasound. One of these types of machines WILL pick up the stick. If they can detect cancer cells and other minute particles, they surely could detect the glow stick.

If possible see a gastro and get their assessment. Maybe this is just out of the league of a run of the mill pediatrician. >:{ All I know is, if anything goes wrong, I'd hire a lawyer without batting a lash!

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answers from Santa Barbara on

I would have pushed for the x-ray anyway. Sure, it's not titanium but I have taken x-rays of pets with much less obvious foreign bodies (the Maidenform panties in the beagle come to mind). I don't think it's a scam, they need to present you the options and opportunities for the best medical care (which may have been at the emergency veterinary hospital I worked for in the 1990's). My sister-in-law the ER physician is away right now or I would ask her. I would think they would want to track the "progress".

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answers from Honolulu on

Glow sticks, are not toxic, meaning they are not deadly.
But, the substance, if gotten on skin or is ingested, can irritate.
So, there is a fine line... in that, it may not be deadly nor toxic, but its substance can be an irritant or cause irritation to surrounding skin etc.

And, maybe I'm dumb here... but can plastic really not be seen on an Xray??? It may not be readily visible... but can't they maybe see something?
I would have, if the Doctor, done the x-rays anyway.
They should have, done the x-rays.

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answers from San Diego on

This is so not over. He may need surgery to remove this. This IS an emergency every single day it's in there. Take him to another emergency room! How the heck big is this? it could easily get lodged in the intestines. I can't believe they sent you home.

Marda, I've seen those shows about the people that swallow things. I forget the term for it. They have to go down the esophogus to retrieve stuff all the time. Kids die way too many times per year for tiny things they swallow and cause issues in the intestines. I've never seen a SMALL glow stick. That thing needs to come OUT!

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answers from San Francisco on

I am so sorry you went through the stress of this! Stay on top of the insurance. They may try to fight it because they tend to fight more than they should. Since it was potentially hazardous I think you did the right thing. Hope it all works out and that the insurance just does their job and PAYS!

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answers from Philadelphia on

how big is it? id go to another er...that seems dangerous, they dont bend couldn't it tear the intestines while passing through or create a very serious obstruction? I swallowed a penny when I was 3 and they x-rayed M. and even with something that tiney i remember being monitored

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answers from Hartford on

How large was the glow stick? If it was small enough to swallow without choking then he "should" pass it but I'd be concerned about stomach and digestive acids eating open the plastic and letting the glass shards inside out into his digestive system. Personally I would insist that the doctors do an ultrasound to find it and try to get it out. There's also a risk of it getting stuck and him being unable to pass it.
With normal use this is not an issue, but if you happen to puncture the outer tube and get fluid on your clothes simply wash with warm soapy water. In case of accidental spillage:
* Skin/Body - wash affected area with water.
* Clothing - Wash stained area with warm soapy water and allow soaking for 24 hrs if stain remains dry cleaning is advised.
* Contact with skin or eyes may cause temporary discomfort.Eventlink does not recommend products be broken or liquid poured onto skin. Our products are safe for all users though we recommend that children under 5 must have adult supervision. Do not puncture or split open.

Note: Do not bend activated glow sticks any more; excessive bending may break the plastic tube what will result in leakage.

Are glow sticks safe?

The liquid light source is non-toxic, no heat or harmful radiation is produced. Contact with the eyes or ingesting of the fluid should be avoided, as irritation will result. There is also the possibility of allergic reaction, please keep in mind that under normal use you will never come in contact with the fluid.

Safety Note:

*The activated liquid even though non-toxic may contain tiny shards of glass which may cause injury should the light stick be punctured or split open. The liquid can permanently stain clothing or furniture and can cause skin or eye irritation. Some light stick products may contain small elements, posing choking hazards.

**Light sticks are not suitable for children under 5 years of age without adult supervision. Do not puncture or split open.


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answers from Lakeland on

Can the hospital put one of those small cameras down his throat to see if it is still in his stomach? I would be very concerned about it getting stuck in his intestines. Plastic is toxic, his stomach acid will be breaking it down and some will go through his body. Some doctors are such idiots. I think they sometimes don’t want to be bothered.
How big was this glow stick anyway that he could swallow it whole?

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answers from San Francisco on

Oh my goodness, how scary!! I would have done the same thing! I always thought the liquid inside was toxic too. Maybe it was when we were kids. I don't think it was a scam, and I think the insurance company should cover it, as you acted on information provided by medical professionals. The whole thing sounds like such an ordeal, so I can understand how you're feeling. Don't be hard on yourself - you did your best in a really scary situation! And if it makes you feel better, it sounds like most of us (myself included) would've done exactly what you did.


answers from Des Moines on

If the insurance company denies the claim, appeal-- you made the best decisions you could with the information you had (which was provided in part by paramedics and the local hospital!)

Try not to worry too much as long as he's eating and pooping like his normal self (if those things change it might be a sign of a blockage and time to go back to the ER!)


answers from La Crosse on

An x ray may not have had it show up... but an ultrasound would have!

Yes once on the ambulance I would have done the same thing as you did since they told you it was toxic! I have always heard they are toxic also.

I would give it a couple of days ( going nuts in the mean time!) then I would take him back in and ask for an ultrasound to see where it is at in his system and to make sure it hasnt put even a tiny hole in his stomach/ intestines.

Hopefully everything works out ok! Will be thinking of you!!



answers from San Francisco on

OMG!!! I would have done exactly what you did. There is no way I would have taken my child out of the presence of a medical professional to get into my own car and drive 35 miles! I had heard that those glow sticks were toxic so I don't think anyone scammed you. Did your pedi confirm that it's non-toxic? I feel for him when he passes it! Poor baby!



answers from Los Angeles on

you didnt state the approx size of the glow stick. i say let it pass if he starts vomiting, fever, lethargic behavior, and pain rush him back to the er.



answers from Modesto on

I would have done what you did. Sounds like they may never have come across this situation before. You never know - it could have moved and relodged in a place that would cause an emergency airway problem or necessitate an emergency gastrointestinal surgery. You would have been in the right place should that have been the case. Hope your son recovers in full.



answers from Nashville on

Oh dear goodness, he needs to get it out and for your peace of mind, you need to see it out. In the meantime, give him salads or any fiber type stuff (bread is ok too) plus some water to help flush it out.

Please monitor his breathing and tummy aches if any as well as his stool. Don't panic, but you need to know it gets out.


answers from Austin on

When I read the first line I figured this si what would happen.

I guess he will just have to pass it, but if after 7 days, You better take him back to your child's doctor..

I would fight the insurance if they give you any trouble.. That was an emergency to make sure it had passed through his system safely..



answers from San Francisco on

Don't worry about the bill, what's done is done. I've heard of trips to hospitals very hear to home being very expensive. The fact that you had to drive 35 miles may not be a huge difference, who knows? Best of luck to you! Luckily, the Dr. said it is not toxic. Too bad they couldn't have said that to you when you were driving up there! I guess they would have wanted to see him anyway, but it would have probably eased some of the worry.

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