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My Child Has...

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Foreign Body Swallowed


What items are harmful if swallowed?

Most nonfood items swallowed by children are coins. Smaller coins (dimes or pennies) usually pass though the body easily. Larger coins (and sometimes the smaller ones) can get hung up at a narrow segment of the esophagus. Dangerous objects are pointed ones such as nails and toothpicks. Button (or disk) batteries are dangerous because they contain acid or alkali, which can erode the lining of the intestines.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Check if eating causes symptoms

    If your child does not have any symptoms (trouble swallowing or pain in the throat), give your child some water to drink. If this does not cause any symptoms, your child should eat some bread or other soft, solid, carbohydrate food. If this goes smoothly, the object is probably in the stomach. Swallowed foreign bodies almost always make it to the stomach, travel through the intestines, and are passed in a normal bowel movement in 3 or 4 days. There is nothing you can do to hurry it along.

  • Check bowel movements

    Normally bowel movements do not need to be checked for small, smooth objects. However, when the object is sharp, large, long (more than 1 inch), or valuable, collect your child's bowel movements in a diaper or on newspapers. Cut the bowel movements up with a knife or strain them through a piece of screen until you find the object.

How can I prevent my child from swallowing objects?

Young children who put everything in their mouths must be protected from small objects they might accidentally swallow.

  • Check your floors periodically for coins, buttons, jewelry, small toys, pins, and the like.
  • The button-size batteries used for watches, cameras, etc. contain caustic chemicals and these batteries can cause intestinal damage or death if swallowed. Dispose of them carefully.
  • Avoid putting pierced earrings on children less than 4 years old.
  • Store sewing boxes up high.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call IMMEDIATELY if:

  • Your child is choking or having trouble breathing. (Call 911.)
  • You think your child has swallowed a foreign body.

If you've already talked with your healthcare provider AND any of the following occur, call again:

  • The stools are being checked AND the foreign body hasn't passed in 3 days.
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, or bloody stools develop in the next 2 weeks.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-19
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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