Foreign Body Ingestion

What is foreign body ingestion?

Foreign body ingestion occurs when a non-edible object is swallowed. This can be a medical emergency, depending on the object swallowed. Some objects, such as fruit pits, coins, buttons and marbles often do not cause any problems. However, emergency medical review may be required after swallowing some objects, especially button batteries, magnets, needles and other sharp objects. Small children tend to commonly swallow non-food objects, though adults can also accidentally or intentionally do this. Typical symptoms are pain in the throat or chest, a lump in the throat or chest, and difficulty swallowing. Treatment depends on the object swallowed and whether or not the object will pass through the digestive system. Although some objects can cause severe consequences, the majority of people who accidentally swallow a non-food object will recover without complication.

Risks

Those who swallow small, foreign items like coins and buttons tend to be children between the ages of 1 to 3. Adults may accidentally swallow more food-related items like bones from meat, toothpicks, or fruit pits.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms are pain in the throat or chest, a lump in the throat or chest, and difficulty swallowing. Other common symptoms might be blood in saliva, refusal to eat, gagging, retching or vomiting. Small children may drool more than normal. If the object begins to cause complications, the affected person may begin to vomit blood, develop abdominal pain, become drowsy or collapse.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually based on a history of swallowing or having seen someone swallow a non-food object. An X-ray of the chest or abdomen is often necessary to either confirm the diagnosis (especially in small children) and to check the position of the object in the digestive tract.

Treatment

It is important to get specific advice from a doctor if a non-food item is swallowed. Many objects will pass through the gastrointestinal tract without any assistance. Endoscopic retrieval or surgery may be needed in the case of sharp objects or a risk of bleeding. Button batteries also need urgent removal.

Prevention

Keeping small objects like coins, buttons and marbles away from small children can help prevent their being swallowed. Children should be supervised when using devices that contain button batteries. Eating slowly and not talking while chewing can also help prevent accidentally swallowing non-food objects.

Other names for foreign body ingestion

  • swallowed foreign body
  • foreign body in alimentary tract