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Boy swallows AirPod wireless earbud, ends up in hospital

The boy received the popular gadget for Christmas.
/ Source: TODAY

An Atlanta mother is sharing a cautionary tale about AirPods, the wireless earbuds that became hugely popular Christmas presents this year.

Kiara Stroud’s 7-year-old son had an AirPod in his mouth, choked on it and ended up accidentally swallowing it, she posted on Facebook on Saturday. The boy was rushed to the hospital, where X-rays revealed the gadget in his stomach.

“I can’t make this up. My child, my child,” Stroud wrote in a post displaying the X-ray. “No more AirPods for this kid.”

“We let him know that everything was going to be okay, stayed calm, and it helped him to relax so that the doctors could do their jobs,” she continued in a follow-up post. “Today was one of the days we’ll look back on, thank God that everything was okay and laugh at when he’s older.”

Stroud did not immediately reply to a TODAY request for comment, but she told local media that her son was holding an AirPod in his mouth by the long part just before he accidentally swallowed it. The earbuds, which were a Christmas present, were paired with his phone when the accident happened.

“He’s like, ‘I don’t want to be near my phone. I don’t want it to connect to my phone and start playing music,’” Stroud told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Doctors told the family the gadget would pass through the boy’s body on its own and come out naturally in the stool within a few days, and that he would be fine, Stroud said. She wanted to share the story to warn other parents.

Apple warns that "some iPhone accessories may present a choking hazard to small children" as part of its safety information for the device.

Dr. Sean McGann, an emergency doctor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, said he’s never yet treated anyone who has swallowed an AirPod, but foreign body ingestion in general is very common in pediatric medicine.

"Children can swallow a wide variety of objects, so this incident is generally not that surprising," added Dr. Gary A. Smith, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance. Such swallowing incidents usually peak among children younger than 3 years, he noted.

The most worrisome swallowed objects are button batteries, which can react with saliva and burn a hole through the esophagus, so McGann’s biggest concern would be the battery inside the AirPod. If it stays encased in plastic and isn’t exposed, then it shouldn’t cause any problems as it goes through the body, he said.

“Typically, if something makes its way into the stomach, it will pass. The esophagus is the more challenging passageway,” McGann, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, told TODAY. He was not involved in treating the boy in this case.

“Most things that are ingested will pass without issue. The batteries are one thing that is very scary.”

McGann also worried the earbuds could pose a choking hazard. Choking is a leading cause of mortality among children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A foreign body aspiration is much more concerning than ingestion because it can lead to an obstructed airway, he said. Warning signs include loud wheezing, difficulty breathing and coughing.

McGann advised parents to keep their AirPods in a safe place away from small kids and warn older kids not to put them in their mouths. “As a parent, you always have to be hyper-aware of what’s going on,” he said.

There may be more such incidents as wireless wearables become smaller and more affordable, McGann noted.