Children, Pets Who Swallow Post-1982 Pennies At Risk For Stomach Upset, EvenUlcers

November 30, 1998

CHICAGO -- When a child swallows a penny, it can react with stomach acid to create a toxic mixture as corrosive as car battery acid, leading to severe stomach inflammation and even ulcers, physicians at Duke University Medical Center have discovered.

The research findings, prepared for presentation Monday (Nov. 30) at the 84th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), show that the surprisingly common problem of ingested coins can pose a serious threat to children and pets. The research was supported by the Duke department of radiology.

Dr. Sara O'Hara, a pediatric radiologist, and her Duke colleagues, Dr. Lane Donnelly, Dr. Emil Chuang, Dr. William Briner and Dr. George Bisset, conducted the research after a 2-year-old boy was brought to Duke with an upset stomach. When doctors X-rayed the child's stomach, they discovered a small disc full of holes, which they assumed was a toy part or small battery. However, when doctors removed the object with an endoscope (a thin tube with a surgical tool inserted from the mouth into the stomach), they discovered that the object was a 1989 penny the child had swallowed four days earlier. In addition, the child had developed a stomach ulcer in the area where the penny had lodged.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 21,000 children made trips to the emergency room after swallowing coins in 1997.

"We were surprised to find that the object we saw on the X-ray was a penny because it had holes in it," said O'Hara. "Kids ingest coins all the time and they usually pass through the stomach and intestinal tract without incident. So we wanted to investigate what happened."

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they bathed pennies in a solution of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). Pennies minted before 1982, which are 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc, showed no erosion. However, those minted after 1982, which are nearly all zinc, with a thin copper plating, began eroding immediately. By the second day, they had holes in them. The researchers found the zinc in the coins reacted with the acid to form hydrogen gas and zinc chloride. The reaction, similar to the chemical process that occurs in car batteries, can erode the stomach lining, causing an ulcer. Other U.S. coins are made of non-corrosive metals, mainly nickel, and don't cause the problem.

"The high zinc content in recently minted pennies poses a potentially serious problem when ingested," O'Hara said. "Most likely a single coin would pass through the stomach, but if it does lodge there, it can quickly become toxic. Pediatricians and radiologists should be alerted to consider this possibility when examining a child who had swallowed a coin."

When zinc is absorbed into the body in high enough doses, it can cause problems ranging from stomach ulcers to kidney, liver and bone marrow damage. While a single coin isn't likely to cause severe damage to a child, O'Hara said, it can cause ulcers. If a pet swallows a coin, it can cause serious systemic damage, and a visit to the veterinarian may be warranted.

O'Hara recommends that parents wait a day or two when they know their child or pet has swallowed a penny and check the stool to see if the coin emerges. If the child starts having stomach pain or vomiting, bring the child to an emergency room and report that a penny was swallowed.

Duke University Medical Center

Related Zinc Articles from Brightsurf:

Scientists evaluated the perspectives of zinc intake for COVID-19 prevention
Researchers from Sechenov University in collaboration with colleagues from Germany, Greece and Russia reviewed scientific articles on the role of zinc in the prevention and treatment of viral infections and pneumonia, with projections on those caused by SARS-CoV-2.

Putting zinc on bread wheat leaves
Applying zinc to the leaves of bread wheat can increase wheat grain zinc concentrations and improve its nutritional content.

A nanoscale laser made of gold and zinc oxide
Tiny particles composed of metals and semiconductors could serve as light sources in components of future optical computers, as they are able to precisely localize and extremely amplify incident laser light.

Zinc lozenges did not shorten the duration of colds
Administration of zinc acetate lozenges to common cold patients did not shorten colds in a randomized trial published in BMJ Open.

Dietary zinc protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae infection
Researchers have uncovered a crucial link between dietary zinc intake and protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the primary bacterial cause of pneumonia.

Zinc could help as non-antibiotic treatment for UTIs
New details about the role of zinc in our immune system could help the development of new non-antibiotic treatment strategies for bacterial diseases, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Zinc deficiency may play a role in high blood pressure
Lower-than-normal zinc levels may contribute to high blood pressure (hypertension) by altering the way the kidneys handle sodium.

Genetic polymorphisms and zinc status
Zinc is an essential component for all living organisms, representing the second most abundant trace element, after iron.

Autism is associated with zinc deficiency in early development -- now a study links the two
Autism has been associated with zinc deficiency in infancy. While it is not yet known whether zinc deficiency in early development causes autism, scientists have now found a mechanistic link.

Can chocolate, tea, coffee and zinc help make you more healthy?
Ageing and a low life expectancy are caused, at least partly, by oxidative stress.

Read More: Zinc News and Zinc Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to