Swallowed Object Facts
- Buttons, button batteries, pins, fishbones, balloons: all these items and more are swallowed by adults and children by accident or on purpose.
- Parents of infants and toddlers are most likely to seek medical attention. Children in this age group are curious and often eat inedible materials such as dirt and coins, and also have trouble swallowing some common foods.
- Older children and adults may swallow objects to seek attention or may have trouble with the anatomy of their esophagus leading to a blockage after eating a normal meal.
- A swallowed object that blocks the airway is a true medical emergency. If the person is not breathing, call 911 for this medical emergency immediately.
- Most swallowed objects pass through the body and out in a bowel movement without any medical intervention.
Swallowed Object Causes
- Infants and toddlers' curious and oral nature draws them to put objects into the mouth. Children in this age group also are unable to adequately chew common foods such as peanuts and hot dogs.
- Older children and adults may eat inedible items to seek attention or as a result of a psychiatric condition.
- A medical condition may cause the esophagus to narrow, which causes food to become stuck in the esophagus.
Swallowed Object Symptoms
- Most swallowed objects cause no symptoms at all.
- Some objects cause immediate choking and vomiting.
- Depending on the texture of the item, such as a toy, there may be some local pain or bleeding in the back of the throat.
- If something gets stuck, several symptoms may occur:
- Unrecognized items ingested and stuck may lead to these symptoms:
- Refusal to feed in infants
- Weight loss and malnutrition
- Vomiting blood
- Blood in the stool
- Severe chest infection
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/12/2016
Thomas Rebbecchi, MD, FAAEM
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