Pediatric caustic ingestion: 50 consecutive cases and a review of the literature.
Caustic injury to the aerodigestive tract remains a significant medical and social concern despite various efforts to minimize hazards of caustic household products. Agents with a pH less than two or greater than 12 are extremely corrosive, causing damage that can range from mild to extensive, including esophageal perforation leading to mediastinitis and death at the extreme scale. Methods include retrospective case note review of all admissions to the otolaryngology unit with caustic injury that underwent esophagoscopy to the Children's Hospital Westmead between 1990 and 2007. A protocol-based management system with antibiotics and steroids together with esophagoscopy at 48 hours was implemented. A total of 50 admissions were identified with an average follow-up of 5 years. There were a total of 28 males and 22 females with a median age of 22 months. Forty-nine cases (98%) were accidental. Thirty-eight cases (76%) occurred within the interiors of the family home with the kitchen being the common location. Another seven (14%) occurred within the external environment of the home, usually in the garage or pool shed. The causative agents were varied with 37 (74%) being alkali, three cases (6%) being acidic, and other agents, such as chlorine bleach, being the remainder. The most frequently ingested alkalis were dishwashing powder and disinfectants closely followed by degreasers. Twenty-five children (50%) drank directly from a container with the remainder ingesting granules or powder directly. At esophagoscopy, 17 cases (34%) had grade 1 injury and 10 (20%) had grade 2 injury. Fifty percent of patients of grade 2 injury subsequently developed strictures requiring multiple dilatations. Importantly, six cases (12%) had evidence of esophageal injury without oral injury. Caustic injuries continue to be a significant morbidity in the pediatric patient group. Most cases are still happening as a result of accidental ingestion from unmarked containers within reach of children at home. Oral injury is not always a useful marker of more significant distal injury. A protocol-based management can identify children at risk for long-term stricture earlier.
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