Report: Homemade Blowguns Pose Choking Risk to Teenagers

homemade_blowguns_choking_hazardA hospital report reveals that blowgun darts might backfire and become lodged in teens’ throats.

Three cases were reported by surgeons at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which is located in Columbus, Ohio, according to Reuters Health. The three teens were brought to the hospital within four months and all three suffered lodging of blowgun darts in their necks. The three boys, explained The Los Angeles Times, required bronchoscopic procedures, which are conducted under general anesthesia.

“As a surgeon who manages airway foreign bodies in children, this was an interesting series of cases,” Dr. Kris Jatana, the study’s lead author, said, according to Reuters Health.

Homemade blowguns can be made with items typically found in the home, said Jatana, a pediatric otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon, Reuters Health reported. “Most of these require materials that can be found in the home already. So children don’t need to go out shopping to get them,” Jatana told Reuters Health.

The first case was received in the hospital in 2011 and involved a 15-year-old boy who complained of a sudden cough while playing with his siblings. X-rays were taken, Reuters Health reported, and revealed a that a four-inch metallic needle was stuck in his lower airway, just above his collar bone. Ultimately, the boy admitted that he had been building a blowgun following instructions he found on the Internet.

The doctors used a long, flexible tube, with a camera attached on one end, to locate and remove the needle, according to Reuters Health. The needle was lodged at the entrance to the bronchial tubes. “It requires surgery under general anesthesia…. Most of the time we’re able to remove these in children without long-term (complications) … but there are other times when we have to perform open surgery through the neck,” Jatana told Reuters Health.

Over the next three months, surgeons at the hospital treated two more cases in which teenage boys inhaled blowgun darts. The boys were all around the same approximate age and all underwent surgery, according to the researchers reporting in the journal Pediatrics. Jatana told Reuters Health that he is aware of other cases that were treated at other children’s hospitals.

When teens inhale air before exhaling air through the blowgun, they can inhale the dart; when the teens suck in the air, they open their airways and vocal chords, explained Jatana. This, he told Reuters Health, exposes the lower airway. “When the child maximally inhales, the vocal cords are open and the foreign body can go straight into the airway without obstruction,” Jatana said, according to the LA Times.

The needles can also cause damage in the upper airway and can pose a choking hazard. “Any airways foreign body in general is a potentially dangerous situation. Particularly from the standpoint of airway obstruction,” Jatana pointed out. According to Jatana, he and his fellow researchers discovered 20 websites that provide instructions on how to make a blowgun from common, household items. The researchers warn parents to be aware of what their children are doing on the Internet. “I think it’s difficult, but try to keep close supervision to what your children are doing on the Internet… and certainly discouraging any type of participation in these types of activities, because they can be life threatening,” Jatana told Reuters Health.

While Jatana said it is not possible to determine how many cases have occurred, the high number in such a short time, prompted him and his colleagues to describe what they experienced and draft a warning to other doctors, teens, and parents, according to the LA Times. “It’s just one of those things that could be an emerging problem,” Jatana said. “We’re really obligated to let people know that this occurred.”

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