When you swallow food, liquid, or an object, what is swallowed passes from your mouth through your throat and esophagus into your stomach. A swallowed object will usually pass through the rest of your digestive tract without problems and show up in your stool in a few days. If food or a nonfood item gets stuck along the way, a problem may develop that will require a visit to a doctor.
Sometimes when you try to swallow, the swallowed substance "goes down the wrong way" and gets inhaled into your windpipe or lungs (aspirated). This occurs most often in children who are younger than 3 years and in adults who are older than age 50. When you do inhale a substance, coughing is a normal reaction of the body to clear the throat and windpipe. The cough is helpful and may clear up the problem. Inhaling a substance into your lungs can cause a lung inflammation and infection (aspiration pneumonia).
The situation may be more serious when:
About 80% to 90% of swallowed objects, like chewing gum, are harmless and pass through the gastrointestinal tract without problems. But some types of objects can cause more serious problems when they are swallowed. These include:
Your doctor may recommend tests such as an X-ray, endoscopy, or barium swallow to help find the object if it doesn't come out in the stool, or if an inhaled object is not coughed out. See an X-ray of a swallowed object. A special metal detector (not the same kind that people use in their yards) might be used to locate a metallic object, such as a coin, inside the body. Your doctor may then recommend a procedure to remove the object or may simply encourage you to continue to check the stool for the passage of the object.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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