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
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:
- Signs of choking (complete airway
obstruction) are present. When the windpipe is blocked, air cannot move in and
out of the lungs and the person cannot talk, cry, breathe, or cough. A blocked windpipe is a
choking rescue procedure (Heimlich maneuver) is used
to clear an obstruction in adults and children older than 1
- Rescue back blows and chest thrusts are used in
babies younger than 1 year.
- Signs of a
partially blocked windpipe are present. When the
windpipe is partially blocked, some air can still move in and out of the lungs.
The person may gag, cough, or have trouble breathing. Coughing will often pop out the food or object and relieve the symptoms. The
choking rescue procedure is not recommended when the
windpipe is partially blocked.
object is stuck in the esophagus.
poisonous object has been swallowed, such as a wild mushroom, a plant, or a chemical. For more information, see the topic
button disc battery, magnet, or object with lead has been swallowed.
swallowed object doesn't show up in the stool within 7 days.
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:
- Sharp objects, such as open safety pins, bones,
toothpicks, needles, razor blades, or broken thermometers.
- Large objects that may get stuck in the digestive
tract and require removal.
Your doctor may recommend tests such as an
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.
The following home treatment may
help relieve discomfort after you swallow an object into your digestive tract.
- Do not cause (induce) vomiting unless your doctor
or the poison control center specifically instructs you to do so. Vomiting
could cause you to inhale (aspirate) the object
into your windpipe or lungs.
- Drink liquids. If swallowing liquids
is easy, try eating soft bread or a banana. If eating soft bread or a banana is
easy, try adding other foods. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help
move the swallowed object through the digestive tract.
- Continue to drink more liquids until the
object has passed in your stool. Extra fluid will help the object move through
the digestive tract. The object should pass within 7 days.
your stools to see if the object has passed. Do not use a
laxative unless your doctor tells you to.
Do not use syrup of ipecac. It is no
longer used to treat poisonings. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home,
call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of it
and throw away the container. Do not store anything
else in the container.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- New symptoms develop, such as:
- Shortness of breath,
wheezing, or coughing.
- Pain in the throat, chest, or
- Vomiting, especially vomit that contains
- Blood in the stool, such as red, black, or
- The swallowed object does not pass in the stool
in 7 days.
- Your symptoms become more severe or more
To prevent children younger than 4 years
from swallowing or inhaling objects:
- Carefully supervise young
- Keep small items out of your child's
- Teach children not to put anything other than food in their
- Do not give children
foods that may cause choking. These include hard, smooth, or chewy foods that
must be chewed with a grinding motion or foods that are round and can easily
get stuck in the throat. These types of food are more likely to be swallowed
improperly or inhaled.
- Have children, especially toddlers, sit down
to eat their food.
- Cut food into small pea-sized
- Do not feed your child while he or she is crying or
- Discourage talking, laughing, or playing while
your child has food or beverages in his or her mouth.
- Do not give
small objects that may cause choking, such as marbles
- Look for age guidelines when selecting toys for children.
- Do not let your child play with a toy if he
or she is younger than the recommended age for the toy.
- The safest
toys for small children are at least
1.25 in. (3 cm) around or
2.25 in. (6 cm) in length.
For more information about how to prevent accidental
poisoning, see the topic
Poisoning. Keep the poison control center number for
your area readily available.
Practice the following suggestions
when eating, and teach them to your children. Children may copy your
- Cut your food into small pieces.
small bites slowly and carefully, and chew your food thoroughly.
not laugh or talk with food in your mouth.
- Do not eat or drink
while you are involved in another activity, such as driving.
- Do not
hold objects such as pins, nails, and toothpicks in your mouth and
- Avoid excessive drinking of alcohol while eating.
To be prepared for a choking emergency, take an approved first
aid course such as those that are sponsored by the American Heart Association
or the American Red Cross.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What was swallowed or inhaled? What was the size
of the object?
- When did it happen?
- What are your main
symptoms? How have the symptoms changed since swallowing or inhaling the
- Did your symptoms come on gradually or
- Have you had a change in your bowel habits?
- What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
- Do you have any
- Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger
- Respiratory Problems, Age 12 and Older