Kids Health Info

Swallowed (Ingested) foreign bodies

    • Children commonly swallow things such as coins, small toys, or batteries
    • When a child swallows an object, it will travel through the digestive tract
    • The digestive tract is made up of the oesophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach), stomach and small and large intestines
    • Most swallowed objects travel through the digestive tract and leave the body without causing problems
    • Some objects can cause problems and need to be removed from the digestive tract by a doctor
    • Objects in the oesophagus may not pass into the stomach and can cause problems. These sometimes need to be removed by a doctor
    • If the object is in the stomach or further along, most children will pass the object on their own
    • If your child has swallowed a button battery (from a watch or calculator) or magnets you should seek urgent medical care 

    Signs and symptoms 

    • Many children have no symptoms after swallowing an object
    • If children do have symptoms, they may have:
      • Trouble swallowing food
      • Drooling
      • Pain in the chest or neck
      • Coughing, trouble breathing, or noisy breathing
    • These symptoms usually happen when the object is stuck in the oesophagus. You should seek urgent medical care if this happens
    • Very rarely, the object can become stuck in the stomach or intestines. If this happens your child may have ongoing vomiting, abdominal (tummy) pain, blood in their vomit or poo, or develop a fever. Seek urgent medical care if any of these things happen
    • If your child is coughing or has difficulty breathing, the object may be in their airway or lungs. These objects need to be removed and you should seek urgent medical care 

    What should I expect 

    Does my child need an x-ray?

    • The doctor or nurse will ask what your child has swallowed
    • An x-ray will be done if the swallowed object is made of material that shows up on an x-ray, or if your child has worrying symptoms 

    Do swallowed objects need to be removed?

    • This depends on what the object is and where it is in the digestive tract
    • Some objects can harm the body and may need to be removed urgently. These include batteries (button and disc 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
    • If your child has worrying symptoms after swallowing an object, it may need to be removed. You should seek medical advice if you are concerned about any symptoms 

    If the object doesn't need to be removed:

    • If we are unable to see the object on an x-ray and your child has no worrying symptoms, it is ok to observe your child at home for these symptoms
    • Even sharp objects like broken glass and pins will most likely pass once they are in the stomach or further along

    Things to look for at home:

    • Abdominal (tummy) pain
    • Ongoing vomiting
    • Blood in your child's vomit
    • Blood in your child's faeces (poo)
    • Fever

    Follow-up 

    • Most children do not need any follow up or further x-rays
    • There is no need to examine your child's faeces to find the swallowed object

    Key points to remember

    • Most children will pass the object on their own once it is in their stomach or further along
    • After you leave the doctor or emergency department, observe your child at home for the symptoms listed above
    • If you are concerned about your child, please seek medical advice 

    References

    List any references or research/evidence to support the information you are providing. Also please list and add the URL for any associated Clinical Practice Guideline. 

    Developed in consultation with the Emergency Department and Surgical Department. First published April 2013.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.