No, you should not have eaten this.
November 16, 2009 5:33 PM   Subscribe

You (Possibly) Ate WHAT?! Filter: I turned my back for a second and lo, the toddler in my care had a small piece of styrofoam in his mouth.

How on earth do I ascertain whether or not he actually swallowed any? If he did, what symptoms should I expect to see?

(He's acting totally normal and I have no reason to believe that he is in imminent danger. Of course, if anything drastic changes and I have any reason to believe that he's seriously ill, I will call 911.)

(The styrofoam was of the old-styrofoam-cooler type and not, say a packing peanut. The chunk I found was a small cube perhaps 1/4" tall.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
Check this out.
posted by amro at 5:43 PM on November 16, 2009

I don't think styrofoam itself is going to be toxic.*
Even if he did swallow a bit of it, you're biggest worry is going to be how to explain it to his parents. Because they will find it in his diaper and wonder.

*But what was in/on/under/around the styrofoam? That could be a problem.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2009

Uhh.. styrofoam? It's harmless.

Am I missing something here? This seems like a strange thing to worry about, I'm sure I ate the stuff when I was a kid - from a coffee cup, packing peanut, etc. etc. (This is not meant to be snarky - have I missed something important in the news?)
posted by defcom1 at 5:52 PM on November 16, 2009

The only symptoms from eating Styrofoam AFAIK are pieces of Styrofoam in your poo.
posted by idiopath at 5:59 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

i have pica. i have eaten a lot of styrofoam in my day. i'm sure i ate some as a toddler. i'm fine. call poison control to be proactive, mention it to his parents. the kid'll be fine.

(no, i don't suggest eating random things, but on the list of things i've eaten, this is very low on the list of things to freak out about)
posted by nadawi at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - if you think askme is the wrong place for this, please take it up with a mod or in Meta, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2009

At risk of sounding like the worst mother in the world, when he was a toddler, my son bit the end off of a thermometer and swallowed the mercury filled end. Before I brought him to the emergency room I called poison control and they said don't worry about it, the mercury was not enough to harm him. I knew the glass would be okay because of the time he chewed and swallowed a tiny Christmas light. Styrofoam would have been a blessing.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:41 PM on November 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

I ate a large chunk of a styrofoam cup once; as mentioned above, it came out the other end some time later with no adverse effects.

Same thing went for wax crayons, just FYI.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:42 PM on November 16, 2009

I know a guy who ate a Styrofoam coffee cup once, on a dare. He was fine. (Well, no worse off than he was before, anyway, but nothing related to the cup.)

I've always been curious whether that stuff dissolves in stomach acid or just goes right through, but not curious enough to ask him...
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2009

I don't know if this really means anything or not but polystyrene is used in a drug that's given to infants if they have levels of potassium that are too high.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:14 PM on November 16, 2009

First of all, I don't think it's unreasonable to freak out when a child eats something that's not food. And from the language of your post, it sounds like it's not your kid - so of course you're going to doubly freak out.

That said, it's probably harmless and as long as it didn't obstruct any airways it should pass through.
posted by radioamy at 8:25 PM on November 16, 2009

So I was in California, and my wife and children were in New York. At some point in the evening, my son walked in with the plate on which my mother-in-law kept her blood pressure medication, and they didn't know if he'd eaten it or not.

A phone call to the hospital revealed that particular medication was extremely dangerous, as it could lead to a sudden blood pressure drop without warning, which would undoubted kill him. They spent the night in a hospital getting his stomach pumped and monitoring him, while I flew across the country. Ultimately nothing happened, other than a significant change in the way my mother-in-law prepared the house for future visits.

Styrofoam? No biggie. That'll shit right out. Understandable that you'd freak out since it isn't your child, though.
posted by davejay at 9:23 PM on November 16, 2009

I didn't realize it would take this long to post - anyhow: update, I'm the OP, the kid's not mine, the parents and I have been keeping an eye on him and 20+ hours later, he's totally fine.

And yes, I was worried since Not My Kid + Eating Non Food = Potentially The Worst Nanny Ever.

I'll check on styrofoam in his diaper, and thanks for easing my fears.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:26 AM on November 17, 2009

I'm sure the parents are already used to the child eating all sorts of inappropriate things, and if anything will relate quite sympathetically to the panic you felt.
posted by hermitosis at 6:09 AM on November 17, 2009

Are you taking care of children professionally? Then be sure you're following your state guidelines on reporting incidents. It would be negligent to not inform the parents of something like this. Sure, it may well not be harmful. But it's not up to you to make that decision. The parents need to stay informed about their child. Glad to hear there haven't been any problems.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2009

I thought it was pretty clear from my statement the parents and I have been keeping an eye on him that the parents were immediately informed of the possible styrofoam ingestion.

I do take care of children professionally, but as a nanny, there is no state regulation board that controls me - what with the paid-under-the-table and all. But as a professional, I did of course notify the parents before I indulged my paranoia in AskMe.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Styrofoam is merely inflated styrene, which is rather unreactive. No big deal.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:18 AM on November 17, 2009

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