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Swallowed foreign bodies

Children commonly swallow things they shouldn't. Coins seem to be a firm favourite!

Make sure that you seek medical attention if you suspect that your child has swallowed

something that the shouldn't have. This is especially important in the case of batteries,

magnets, sharp objects, or caustic liquid ingestion, because these objects can cause

major damage if they are not removed!

Swallowing of foreign bodies most commonly occurs between the ages of 6 months and 4 years old. Sometimes parents will see the event, but other times it will be unnoticed. An ingested foreign body should be suspected if your child has feeding and / or breathing difficulties. Drooling and retching in particular would be warning signs. 

How can the swallowed foreign body be removed?

If you see your child choking on a foreign body, it could have been inhaled OR swallowed. Please see the inhaled foreign body section also.


If your child is struggling to eat and drink, has breathing difficulties or is in pain, the doctor may organise X-rays to try see what has been swallowed and where it is. Your child will be examined and monitored.

Depending on what the foreign body is, where it is, and how well your child is, further management may be required. Some foreign bodies (if fish bones stuck in throat) can be removed with the child awake, but others may need a general anaesthetic with the child asleep. 


Sometimes foreign bodies do not need to be removed. In this case the doctor will ask you to monitor your child for symptoms of breathing and feeding difficulties, pain and temperature.

Are there any warning signs?

The following could suggest that the foreign body has damaged the swallowing or breathing passages. If any of these happen, please seem immediate medical attention:


-chest or back pain

-neck swelling

-breathing difficulties

-vomiting or coughing blood

-stomach pain

-swollen stomach

Section contributor:

Quentin Bounduelle MRCS DOHNS

Core Surgery Doctor

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