Swallowed or Inhaled Objects
Swallowed or Inhaled Objects
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 do
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
- 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
potentially poisonous object, such as a condom filled with illegal drugs, has
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.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
August 8, 2012
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