Seven years. This was always the ‘magic’ number it would take for a single piece of chewing gum to digest, or at least that’s what I was told as a child. As it turns out, this isn’t the case at all. It only takes around 40 hours for a single piece of swallowed gum to come out in your stool.
However, if your child is swallowing too many pieces of gum, it could result in a very serious blockage.
This is what happened to a five-year-old boy from Ohio who shared with his mum that he had consumed an entire package of sugar-free gum, roughly 40 pieces. The little boy swallowed every last piece.
Gum forms a large mass in child’s stomach
His concerned mother contacted poison control who said to monitor his condition. For the first few hours, the little boy seemed fine but after about six hours, he developed stomach cramps and diarrhoea and was in serious pain.
His mother rushed him to the ED where they discovered the gum had formed a large mass in his stomach. The pieces of chewing gum had blocked 25 per cent of his stomach and his gastrointestinal tract.
The medical team, led by Dr Chizite Iheonunekwu from Cleveland Clinic Akron General, performed an esophagoduodenoscopy (EGD) to remove the large amounts of gum, which took several passes to get it all out. The procedure involves placing a metal tube down the patient’s throat.
Two days later, the little boy was discharged home and, thankfully, is fine now.
Is gum really that bad to swallow?
A single piece of gum, no. As mentioned above, it will take around 40 hours to pass. But if you consume too much, especially in a short period of time, it can damage your body.
However, his story acts as a stark reminder that too much gum can be very dangerous.
Dietitian Beth Czerwony at the Cleveland Clinic explains,
“If you do this every day, or multiple times a day, it can cause an intestinal blockage. A blockage isn’t going to clear itself. Left untreated, it can cause a rupture of the gastrointestinal tract. Gum base isn’t able to be digested, so it just stays in your guts all the way through and doesn’t break down.”
If you or your child swallows gum – several pieces of it – in a short time, you should see your doctor to check for an intestinal blockage.
Bottom line: Hide your gum, mums and dads! While older kids are aware not to swallow chewing gum, younger children are not, which is why it is important to HIDE your chewing gum from curious little fingers. It only takes 10 minutes for a child to discover the package and think they are lollies.
And not just chewing gum either. My four-year-old recently found a package of chewable vitamins (for kids) and consumed at least 20 of them.. at least. Luckily there wasn’t iron in them and she was fine but it was a good reminder to always keep items like these hidden up high.
Additional hazards for young children
Here are some items to store out of sight as they could pose a choking hazard to small children:
- Raw carrots and other hard vegetables
- Pieces of apple
- Whole grapes and cherry tomatoes
- Corn chips
- Hard lollies
Children under the age of three years may not have their full set of teeth and can’t chew properly, so any food that is small and firm is a choking hazard.
- Needles, pins or safety pins
- Small magnets and small batteries
- Buttons, beads, marbles, the tops of ballpoint pens
- Polystyrene beads (found in stuffed toys and bean bags)
- Small building blocks
- Small bouncy balls
See the full list of choking hazards at the Royal Children’s Hospital.