HealthSheets™


When Your Child Swallows an Object

Side view of girl's head and neck showing upper respiratory anatomy and upper digestive anatomy.

Young children often put small objects in their mouths, such as marbles, pins, or coins. These objects may be swallowed by accident. This can be scary. But it's not always cause for concern. Most often, the object will pass through your child's body without harm. But in some cases, an object may become stuck in the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus) or windpipe (trachea). In that case, your child needs medical care right away. Hours to days later, the object can become stuck in the intestine.

If you see your child, older than age 1, swallow a button battery and he or she is not allergic to honey, give 1 to 2 teaspoons (5 to 10 ml) of honey right away. Then go to the emergency room to help prevent burns in the throat.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think your child has swallowed an object. Don't try to take the object out yourself. This may cause more harm. Go to the ER if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing, speaking, or swallowing

  • Is spitting up saliva or vomiting

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

  • Is vomiting blood or passing blood from the rectum

  • Has swallowed a button battery

What to expect in the ER

  • A healthcare provider will ask about the swallowed object and give your child a physical exam.

  • X-rays may be taken to help find the object. This depends on your child's symptoms and what the object was.

  • In some cases, your child may need a barium swallow test or CT scan. One of these tests may be done if you think but aren't certain that your child swallowed an object, and it doesn't show up on an X-ray. In a barium swallow, your child drinks a thick liquid and X-rays are then taken. CT scanning is a test that uses a series of X-rays. It may be done if the healthcare provider thinks an abscess has formed or is worried about rupture of the digestive tract. This scan helps the healthcare provider see objects that may not show up on other tests.

Treatment

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

  • Watchful waiting. A smooth object that has not become stuck in the esophagus or the airway (trachea) may pass on its own in 24 hours or a few days. The object may be checked over time by a series of X-rays. Watchful waiting is not appropriate if your child has swallowed a button battery.

  • Endoscopy. To remove an object and check for any damage, a lighted, telescope-like tube (endoscope) may be used. The scope is put down into the esophagus through the mouth. Your child will be given medicine so he or she sleeps through the procedure. The object can be removed from the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.

  • Surgery. If an object does not pass in a certain amount of time and can’t be taken out with a scope, your child may need surgery.

Follow-up

Call your child's healthcare provider or return to the ER if your child:

  • Has nausea or vomiting

  • Has bloody vomit or bloody stools

  • Has severe belly pain

Prevention

Clear your home of loose objects that can be swallowed by a child. This includes batteries (especially button batteries), loose magnets, and sharp objects.

© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell