When I saw a Facebook post two days ago about children getting their tongues stuck in metal water bottles, I thought maybe it was a joke article from The Onion or some other site that spoofs the news.
But the investigative health piece was from a Today Show Rossen Report and the story is no laughing matter.
The Rossen Report describes what happened to one girl who got her tongue stuck inside a metal water bottle: It swelled so much it took doctors three hours to remove the bottle using special surgical tools. Had doctors not be able to remove it, the girl could've suffocated or her tongue could've died, requiring it to be surgically removed, rendering her speechless for life.
Further research shows that this has happened to several other children as well.
According to the Rossen Report: "Doctors believe that when some children stick their tongues in to take a drink, it creates a strong suction -- and metal bottles won't flex -- causing the tongue to swell up inside. They think that the narrow neck and strong brass ridges on the bottle act like a noose, trapping the tongue."
Two companies have already posted statements in response to the report. PrintGlobe.com, a promotional products company, has taken the tongue-trap issue so seriously, it's removed these kinds of metal water bottles from their catalog. SIGG also issued a statement that it's working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission after learning of one such incident, to determine whether it was a SIGG product, though it noted that it's produced water bottles with this similar design for 50 years without incident.
Many parents, and consumers, think metal water bottles, often stainless steel, are their safest health bet compared to plastic water bottles which often contain BPA, an industrial chemical that may affect a child's development. Just this summer, I purchased a stainless steel water bottle for my 7-year-old son. My only concern was that the bottle stated it was BPA-free (some cheaper metal bottles contain a BPA lining to make them easier to clean).
Making metal water bottles safer
The vast majority of children use metal water bottles without incident, but if you'd rather be safe than sorry, there's an easy fix. Most metal water bottle manufacturers sell replacement caps with a small pop up straw or opening that snaps shut. In retail stores, these sippy caps are often sold separately, for about $1 or $2.
You can also purchase some sip caps online. KleanKanteen, which sells its own products and also manufactures water bottles for retailers such as L.L.Bean, has a sports cap that fits all its classic-size bottles and costs $4.95. It's Kid Kanteen Sippy Cap, designed for the tot set, retails for $5.95. If you want a replacement bottle, SIGG makes a bottle especially for kids, that is a runner-up in our "Best Water Bottles for Kids," with a pull-up top and a dust cover). For older kids, SIGG offers a traditional sport cap, with pull up top, that fits all its aluminum water bottles, for $4.99. And because most metal bottles follow a uniform size, you should be able to purchase one of these caps to fit your own.
The issue still remains, though, for children who can unscrew these caps themselves. In this case, depending on the age and comprehension of your children, you could either recycle these bottles and/or fully explain to them the serious consequences. And, just in case they think you're making this all up, be sure to show them the Today Show video of the girl who got her tongue stuck. Those images will hit the message home.
Which bottles pose a risk?
What the Rossen Report didn't state clearly, though, is whether all metal water bottles can create this dangerous suction: The video showed bottles with a narrow, brass-threaded opening to be the culprit, so I'm still not sure if the wide-neck bottle I purchased for my son -- and others wide-mouthed bottles -- pose any risk. The issue is so new that the research hasn't yet been done to determine which bottles will cause this problem. In the meantime, warn your kids not to stick their tongues in their metal water bottles -- and re-show them that scary video.