Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(2):292

See related article on foreign body ingestion.

Should I be worried about my child swallowing things?

Children can swallow small objects in an instant. Usually, the object will pass through the gut without causing any problems. Sometimes things get stuck and cause serious problems.

I think my child might have swallowed something. What should I do?

Take your child to the doctor right away if you think he or she swallowed a battery or something sharp. If you think your child might have swallowed something metal (like a coin), it’s probably best to see your doctor. If you think your child swallowed something small that isn’t sharp (like a plastic bead), you do not need to take him or her to the doctor right away. Call your doctor if your child starts to have any of the following symptoms: vomiting, gagging, drooling, not eating, stomach pain, coughing, or wheezing.

Sometimes things can get stuck in a child’s windpipe without causing any symptoms. Your child should be taken to the doctor within 24 hours, even if he or she seems to be well.

What will my doctor do?

The first thing your doctor will do is try to find out what your child swallowed. Your child might need to have an x-ray so that your doctor can see where the object is stuck. Your doctor might use special tools to make sure the object is not stuck in your child’s windpipe.

Depending on where the object is, your doctor might try to take it out or push it down into your child’s stomach. Most things that reach the stomach pass naturally in the stool.

Your doctor might want to take x-rays on several days to make sure the object is moving through the gut. He or she will tell you to watch your child closely for certain symptoms. Your doctor also might want you to check your child’s stools for the object.

How can I keep my child from swallowing things?

Keep small objects, especially sharp objects and batteries, out of your child’s reach. Do not let your child play with toys that have small parts that might come off and be swallowed. Make sure that older children keep their small toys away from your child.

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