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A retrospective analysis of ingestion of caustic substances by children. Ten-year statistics in Galicia


We reviewed the case histories of 743 children seen at our hospital from 1981 to 1990 for suspected ingestion of caustic substances. Mean patient age was 27 months; 85% of patients were less than 3 years old. The male-to-female ratio was about 2:1. About 53% of patients were from urban environments. All ingestions appear to have been accidental. Of the 743 children, 20% presented oesophageal burns (11.8% first-degree, 3.1% second-degree and 2.7% third-degree). Alkaline products were ingested about 11 times more frequently than acid products. The substance ingested was bleach in 73% of cases. The most dangerous substances were dishwasher liquids/powders (59% of ingestions led to oesophageal burn), caustic soda (55%) and drain cleaners (55%). The caustic product was not in its original container in 75% of cases. Most accidents (58%) took place in the home. We did not detect any reliable predictive relationship between the presence of symptoms and signs and of oesophageal burns. Of the 743 patients, 5% developed oesophageal stricture and 3% required oesophageal dilatation.

Conclusion The incidence of accidents caused by the ingestion of caustic substances can only be reduced by broad-based preventive strategies, including enforcement of safe manufacturing practices and public education programmes. Most importantly, the containers for caustic household products should be cheap, small and childproof.

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Casasnovas, A., Martinez, E., Cives, R. et al. A retrospective analysis of ingestion of caustic substances by children. Ten-year statistics in Galicia. Eur J Pediatr 156, 410–414 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004310050627

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  • Key words Caustic substances 
  •  Children 
  •  Oesophagus 
  • Epidemiology 
  •  Prevention