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Swallowed Object

Young children often put small objects, such as marbles, pins, or coins, in their mouths. These objects may then be swallowed. Although this can be frightening, it's not always cause for concern. Most often, the object will pass through your child's system without harm. But a foreign object may become stuck in the esophagus (food tube) or trachea (windpipe). In that case, your child needs prompt medical care.

When to Go to the Emergency Department (ED)

Don't try to remove the object yourself. This may cause more harm. Seek emergency help if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing, speaking, or swallowing.

  • Is spitting up saliva or vomiting.

  • Has chest pain, stomach pain, or pain when swallowing.

  • If you saw of suspect an object like a battery or mercury thermometer was swallowed.

What to Expect in the ED

  • A healthcare provider will ask about the swallowed object and perform a physical exam.

  • X-rays will likely be taken or ultrasound will be done to help locate the object.

  • In some cases, a test called a barium swallow may be used. Your child drinks a thick liquid and x-rays are then taken. This helps your healthcare provider see objects that may not show up on other tests.


Treatment will depend on the type of object and where it's located. Your healthcare provider may suggest one of the following measures:

  • Watchful waiting: A smooth object that has not gotten stuck may pass on its own in 24 hours.

  • Removal with a catheter: Your healthcare provider may try to remove a smooth object using a balloon catheter (a thin tube with an inflatable tip). The catheter is passed into the esophagus through your child's nose or mouth. A local anesthetic helps keep your child pain-free.

  • Esophagoscopy: To remove an object and check for any damage, an esophagoscope (a lighted, telescope-like tube) may be used. The instrument is put down into the esophagus through the mouth. Your child will be given medication so he or she "sleeps" through the procedure.


Call your pediatrician or return to the ED if your child:

  • Is nauseated or vomits.

  • Has stomach pain or bloody stools.

  • Has difficulty breathing, wheezes, or has trouble speaking

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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