A boy from Ohio found himself in the hospital after swallowing 40 pieces of chewing gum. The incident led to a nasty buildup of sticky matter in his stomach, which required an emergency procedure, according to the case outlined in JEM Reports. The boy’s mom took him to the ER the next day after he woke up with diarrhea and stomach cramps. An exam of his GI tract showed the region nearly completely blocked.
The doctors looked for “bezoars,” small indigestible foreign objects that children tend to swallow. Dr. Chizite Iheonunekwu of the Cleveland Clinic, who led the team, located the gummy mass in the boy’s stomach after doing a CT scan of the region. The report says that the mass took up 25 percent of his stomach.
Luckily, they were able to remove the clump of gum using an esophagoscope, a long metal tube that goes down the esophagus, and a pair of forceps that grabbed onto the gum. It was a bit of a slog for the team as it took “multiple” passes to clear away the obstruction, leaving the child with a sore throat.
It’s a myth that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for seven years. Doctors say it will pass through the digestive system within a day or two, mostly intact. Accidentally swallowing your gum isn’t all that dangerous, but you shouldn’t make it a habit.
“If you’ve swallowed a piece of gum, it’ll come out about 40 hours later in your stool,” registered dietitian Beth Czerwony told Cleveland Clinic last year. “Because it can’t be digested, it comes right out whole.”
Too much swallowed gum will start to gunk up the digestive tract, which can lead to stomach problems as was the case for the Ohio boy.
“If you do this every day, or multiple times a day, it can cause an intestinal blockage,” Czerwony cautioned. “Anything you eat after that isn’t going to be able to get through, which causes a backup that leads to pain and pressure.”
But bezoars can be dangerous for small children. Most will pass through the body naturally, but larger objects with sharp edges can cause damage on the way down. If they aren’t removed in a timely manner, they can cause perforations or ischemia, which is where blood flow, and therefore oxygen, are reduced to parts of the body, which could cause further and unnecessary complications for the patient.
“Gastric bezoars are rare and can vary in their presentations,” the authors of the report wrote. “ED physicians must consider bezoars in their differential diagnosis for pediatric patients presenting with postprandial fullness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or weight loss. Complications of bezoars include ischemia and perforation. A thorough history can help delineate the material causing the bezoar. Treatment of bezoars varies and can include treatment with carbonated beverages, endoscopy, and surgery.”