Foreign Bodies in Children: What To Do

In this final article about Foreign Bodies in Children, we discuss what you can do when your child has a foreign body stuck in one of his/her orifices.

What to do when your child may have swallowed an foreign body or placed a foreign body in their mouth:

  1. Stay calm. Do not shout or move the child suddenly as they may accidentally swallow it.
  2. Ask the child to remove the foreign body from their mouth (if possible). Do not forcefully pry their mouth open as you may end up pushing it further in.
  3. If the foreign body is nowhere to be found, bring the child to see a doctor. Do not fish around. Often an X-ray is necessary to locate it.
  4. If the child appears breathless, bring him/her to the Children’s Emergency straightaway.
  5. If the child has swallowed a button battery, bring him/her to the Children’s Emergency straightaway.

What do do if you child has swallowed a (fish) bone:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Do not eat rice/banana/drink vinegar because this may make the bone migrate further.
  3. Seek medical attention immediately – if the family doctor sees the bone in the tonsils, they can remove it. However if the bone is not there, they usually refer the patient to the Children’s Emergency.
  4. If your child is unable to swallow anything further, is drooling, or if they can swallow but food keeps regurgitating upwards, these are signs that there is something blocking the food pipe, and urgent medical attention is required.
  5. If your child has chest pain or fever, these are warning signs that there is surrounding infection. This is a potential emergency, therefore proceed to the Children’s Emergency as soon as possible.


What to do if your child has a foreign body in the ear or nose:

  1. Do not try to take it out unless you are certain you can reach it. Otherwise you push it further in.
  2. If its an organic material foreign body (e.g. corn seed), do not use water to flush it out as it may expand and cause more pain.
  3. Bring the child to see a doctor – to confirm location of the foreign body. The doctor may attempt removal then.
  4. Sometimes, removal under sedation or general anesthesia is necessary.



(This article is Part 4 of a 4-part series about foreign bodies, contributed by my wife who sees people with Ear, Nose and Throat issues.


Part 1 – Foreign Bodies in Children: Why They Can Be Lethal

Part 2 – Foreign Bodies in Children: The Most Common Culprits and Why Button Batteries Are The Child’s Worst Enemy

Part 3 – Foreign Bodies in Children: Warning Signs)





Foreign Bodies in Children: Warning Signs

In the ideal world all children are supervised when they play and all small objects are kept out of their reach at home, at childcare and everywhere the child chooses to explore. However, in the real world, that is very difficult, if not impossible to enforce.

Every parent should know these warning signs that tell you that your child has a foreign body and seek medical attention immediately:


  • Persistent one sided nose discharge – this is usually slightly bloody and yellow or green
  • A bad smell coming from the nose
  • Nasal pain


  • One sided ear discharge
  • Ear pain and swelling of the ear canal

Food pipe

  • Food refusal
  • Difficulty swallowing their usual diet – sometimes they are still able to drink fluids but cannot eat
  • Drooling
  • Regurgitation of food

Windpipe (This is usually more dramatic than at other sites, as you can imagine)

  • Sudden difficulty breathing
  • Child turns blue
  • While taking breaths in and out, the child makes a sound

Unless you are familiar with the object, part of it is sticking out and you can get a good grip on the object (that is rarely the case given the tiny nature of the most common foreign bodies), never try to remove the object. You may dislodge the foreign body deeper into the body, or cause damage to your child’s tissue as you are pulling the item out. Seek medical attention immediately.

(This article is Part 3 of a 4-part series about foreign bodies, contributed by my wife who sees people with Ear, Nose and Throat issues.


Part 1 – Foreign Bodies in Children: Why They Can Be Lethal

Part 2 – Foreign Bodies in Children: The Most Common Culprits and Why Button Batteries Are The Child’s Worst Enemy)

Foreign Bodies in Children: The Most Common Culprits and Why Button Batteries Are The Child’s Worst Enemy

While every single small object (and large object with breakable/detachable small bits) has the potential to become a foreign body in a child ear, nose or throat, there are some common items that are frequently seen in children who come to the emergency department.

These common objects include:

  • Coins,
  • hair clips,
  • batteries (especially button batteries),
  • tissue paper,
  • cotton wool,
  • rubber bands,
  • beads,
  • pencil lead,
  • small erasers,
  • Lego pieces,
  • sequins from clothes

piggy bank and coins
Coins are great for training fine motor and hand-eye coordination but be really careful with them!

Some stranger things I have encountered: rubber piece that is found on the tip of metal hangers, ear phone tips and red beans!

I wish to elaborate more on button batteries. These are absolutely the worst things to let a child play with. They cause serious damage to any orifice they are placed into. Once in contact with a moist environment, the battery fluid leaks out and severe corrosion occurs, damaging the lining of the human tissue it is in contact with.

For example, if inserted into the nose, it can burn a hole straight through the child’s nose septum (the firm piece of tissue in the nose separating the two nostrils). As a result, the poor child will need multiple surgeries to clean the nose. If the damage to the septum is severe the nose may collapse from lack of support. If the button battery is swallowed, it can burn a hole through the child’s food pipe!

In summary, if you suspect your child has a button battery foreign body, bring him to the emergency immediately. There is no time to lose.

(This article is Part 2 of a 4-part series about foreign bodies, contributed by my wife who sees people with Ear, Nose and Throat issues.

Read Part 1 – Foreign Bodies in Children: Why They Can Be Lethal)

Foreign Bodies in Children: Why They Can Be Lethal

The next time you see a button lying around on the floor or a fridge magnet on the lower half of your fridge, beware. These are potentially dangerous items that are health hazards to our children.

Many common household items are dangerous, simply because of their size. Young children somehow love to explore these objects. They put them in their mouth, ears, nose etc. Therein lies the danger. Any foreign object that lodges in the nose may drop down the back of the nose and lodge in the windpipe, causing airway obstruction. The child cannot breathe and this may be fatal.

Objects in the ears are a potential source of infection, especially if they are organic in nature, such as food particles, beans etc. They may also cause hearing loss due to the blockage of sound traveling into the ear.

Objects in the mouth may be swallowed into the food pipe. If they are small enough they will pass through the digestive system. However, if they are large (such as coins) they will end up getting stuck in the food pipe. The child will need surgery to remove it!

Sometimes objects in the mouth are too large to enter the food pipe. These may end up being inhaled and they may also cause airway obstruction and death.

In summary, keep a close watch on your children. Keep all small objects out of their reach. Toys should be inspected regularly for damaged parts which may drop off during play. They tend to grow out of this phase of putting objects in their mouth, nose and ears but every child is different. I have seen children as old as 10 years put things in their ears!

(This article is Part 1 of a 4-part series about foreign bodies, contributed by my wife who sees people with Ear, Nose and Throat issues)

Toy Related Injuries in Children

Last weekend we brought Samantha to a toy shop, and she was so fascinated by a fish wind-up toy that we ended up buying it for her. The toy was clearly not suitable for her – it has small parts that potentially could break off, and the box that the toy came in clearly stated that the toy was not for children below the age of three.

Have you ever bought a toy that is not suitable for your child?

fish toy
This mechanical fish toy has small parts that can drop off and become a choking hazard

In a recent study by KK Hospital published in November 2013, the authors surveyed 93 parents regarding their knowledge on toy safety.

The results were quite amazing – 92.5% of respondents admitted to having previously purchased an age-inappropriate toy for the child, and 87.1% had experienced toy-related child injuries. These accidents were caused by pieces of the toy breaking off (80.4%) and/or the child placing a toy part into their ear, nose or throat (51.1%). 37% of respondents also reported that there had been at least one incident in which  their children had been physically injured while playing with a toy.

Why? The top reasons cited for these accidents were wrong use of toys by the child (44.1%) and a lack of supervision by caregivers (37.6%). Interestingly, the survey found out that parents were generally ok with choosing toys for children under the age of 1 and over the age of 3, but fared poorly in selecting toys for children between the age of 1-3.

Here are some tips for better safety-

What to look out for before buying toys:

  • Make sure toys are suitable for the child’s age group
  • Look for warnings or other safety messages on toy packaging
  • Make sure small parts of toys cannot break off, including the eyes and noes on stuffed toys
  • Avoid toys with sharp points or edges
  • Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air

duck toy
Some soft toy animals have beads for eyes – these may also become a choking hazard if detached

What to look out for after buying toys:
  • Read all instructions included with the toy
  • Throw away all toy packaging such as plastic, cellophane and styrofoam
  • Check toys regularly for broken parts and other hazards
  • Sand the edges of wooden toys that have become sharp or splintered
  • Throw away toys that cannot be fixed
That night, while Samantha slept, the wind-up fish toy was transferred to a secret storage unit..