Foreign Body Aspiration

What is foreign body aspiration?

Foreign body ingestion happens when a non-edible object is swallowed and gets stuck in the throat or airways. It may be a medical emergency, depending on how large the blockage is. Infants and small children tend to inhale small objects such as buttons and marbles, while adults typically inhale food-related items. Typical symptoms are cough, wheeze and difficulty breathing. Treatment involves managing the person's ability to breathe and removing the object.

Risks

Infants and toddlers are the patient group which most commonly inhales small objects such as coins and buttons. Adults more typically accidentally inhale food-related items, such as bones from meat, toothpicks, or fruit pits. Adults with some neurological disorders, such as dementia, are at higher risk of inhaling foreign objects.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the object inhaled, where it lodges in the airways and the time since the object was inhaled. Typical symptoms include wheezing, choking, difficulty breathing, blueness of the face and a persistent cough. If the object causes a large blockage in the airway, these symptoms occur suddenly and require immediate treatment in an emergency department. If the object has been in the airway for some time, and has caused a lung infection, there may be a fever, a fast pulse, and possibly, collapse.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by a doctor assessing symptoms and examining the affected person. X-rays, CT (computer topography) scans of the chest or a bronchoscopy (using a camera to look at the airways) are often needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment involves managing the person's ability to breathe and removing the foreign body. If the person is not able to breathe, airway support and urgent removal is very important. A first step for removing the object is encouraging the affected person to cough. If this is not successful, the object can be removed by a doctor either by bronchoscopy (a camera to look at the airways) or, as a last resort, at surgery. If there is an infection, antibiotics may be given.

Prevention

Keeping small objects like coins, buttons, button batteries away from small children, teaching them to chew well and advising them not to talk or play while eating can prevent a foreign body ingestion in young kids.

Other names for foreign body aspiration

  • Foreign body inhalation