Children sometimes swallow things such as coins, small toys or beads. Most objects that children swallow are harmless, and are passed through the digestive system and out with the faeces (poo) without any problem.
Sometimes, swallowed objects get stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe) and may not pass into the stomach. In these cases, a doctor will need to remove the object.
If you think a child has
swallowed a button battery, go to your nearest hospital emergency
department or call an ambulance immediately. Do not induce vomiting. If a button battery is swallowed and
becomes stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe), it can burn through tissue in just
two hours, causing severe injury or death.
Magnets can be dangerous when swallowed,
especially if two or more are swallowed. If
you think your child has swallowed a magnet, go to your nearest hospital
If you are concerned that your child may have swallowed something poisonous, call Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26 in Australia).
Signs and symptoms of swallowed objects
Most children have no symptoms after swallowing an object, and the object will not cause any problems.
Occasionally, the swallowed object can become stuck in the oesophagus. Take your child to a doctor or hospital emergency department if they have:
- trouble swallowing food
- pain in the chest or neck.
Very rarely, the object can become stuck in the stomach or intestines. Take your child to a doctor or hospital emergency department if they have:
- ongoing vomiting
- abdominal (tummy) pain
- blood in their vomit or poo
- a fever.
If your child is coughing or is having difficulty breathing, the object may be in their airway or lungs. You should call an ambulance immediately if your child is having trouble breathing.
Treatment in hospital
In hospital, a doctor or nurse will ask what your child has swallowed. An X-ray may be done if the swallowed object is made of material that shows up on an X-ray, or if your child has worrying symptoms.
Depending on what the object is and where it is in the digestive system, the object may need to be removed.
- Some objects can harm the body and may need to be removed urgently. These include button batteries and magnets.
- Objects in the oesophagus often need to be removed. This will depend on your child's symptoms.
- Most objects in the stomach or further along (in the intestines) will pass safely on their own.
Care at home
If doctors are unable to see a swallowed object on an X-ray and your child has no worrying symptoms, it is OK to take your child home. Observe them for any developing symptoms and take your child back to hospital if they have:
- abdominal pain
- ongoing vomiting
- blood in their vomit or faeces
After going home, most children will not need any follow up or further X-rays. There is no need to examine your child's faeces to find the swallowed object.
If your child has swallowed a harmless object and is showing no symptoms, there is no need to seek medical advice unless you are concerned about your child.
Key points to remember
- Most objects that children swallow are harmless, and pass through the digestive system without any problem.
- If you think a child has swallowed a button battery or magnet, call an ambulance (000 in Australia) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately. Do not induce vomiting.
- If your child has worrying symptoms, take them to the hospital emergency department.
- Objects that become stuck in the oesophagus, stomach or intestines may need to be removed.
For more information
Common questions our doctors are asked
If the object my child swallowed is sharp, will it cause damage when it passes through their digestive system?
Sharp objects like broken glass and small drawing-board pins will most likely pass once they are in the stomach or further along. It is very unlikely that these will cause internal damage once they’ve passed into the stomach.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Emergency and Surgery departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed March 2018.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.