Foreign body removal

What is a foreign body?

A foreign body is something that is in the body but does not belong there. Foreign objects can be inserted accidentally or intentionally, be inhaled or swallowed, or result from an injury. Foreign bodies are most commonly found in children, who frequently insert things into their mouths, ears, and noses.

What are the symptoms of a foreign body?

Some common symptoms of a foreign object in the body include:

  • Pain: Discomfort may range from mild to severe.
  • Nasal/Ear drainage: If objects are inserted into the nose or ears, drainage may occur.
  • Choking: If an object is stuck in the throat, it can cause choking, coughing and wheezing, difficulty swallowing, or a sensation of a lump in the chest or throat.
  • Breathing problems: An object blocking an airway may cause difficulty breathing.
  • Bowel obstruction: An ingested foreign object may not be able to move through the intestines, causing an obstruction.

If the person is choking or having trouble breathing, seek emergency medical attention or call 911.

What causes a foreign body?

The most common parts of the body for foreign objects to be found are the ears, nose, airway, and stomach.

Both children and adults can accidentally inhale objects in their mouths, such as food or gum. Children are especially prone to this.

Out of natural curiosity, young children may place objects into their ears or nose. Objects that commonly become stuck in the ears or nose include:

  • Crayon tips
  • Small toys or toy parts
  • Food
  • Tissue
  • Pencil erasers
  • Buttons
  • Insects
  • Pebbles
  • Seeds
  • Small batteries

If your child has swallowed a battery or a magnet, seek immediate medical attention – this is an emergency situation.

If an object is trapped in an airway, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

Objects can also pass into the stomach. Coins are the objects most commonly swallowed by children. Often, if the object is in the gastrointestinal tract and is a benign object such as a coin, it may pass in the stool.

How is a foreign body prevented?

Since young children are at the highest risk of putting foreign objects in their bodies, prevention involves keeping small objects out of reach.

About 80 percent of foreign body ingestions pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing any symptoms or complications.

Items that are small and rounded are less likely to cause complications. If the foreign body is large, sharp, or toxic, urgent medical intervention is necessary.

How is a foreign body treated?

Please seek medical attention to have a foreign body removed.  How a foreign body is treated depends on what the foreign body is, and where it is located. 

It is particularly important to seek medical care if: 

  •  An object is trapped in an airway – seek immediate medical attention or call 911
  • A battery or magnet has been ingested – seek immediate medical attention or call 911
  • You are unable to remove the object or can only remove part of it.
  • The object poses immediate danger.
  • The person continues to experience pain.
  • You are not comfortable removing the object.
  • The person has bleeding from the nose that is difficult to control.
  • There is fluid with an unpleasant odor draining from the nose.
  • There is discharge from the ear canal.
  • There is reduced hearing or a sensation of something lodged in the ear.
  • The injury involves an eye or is close to an eye.
  • The wound is deep (cuts deeper than ¼ of an inch beneath the surface of the skin) or dirty (easily susceptible to infection as a result of exposure to unsanitary conditions). For deep and dirty wounds, the health care provider may recommend a tetanus vaccination booster at the time of the visit.

Patient First treats many conditions at our urgent care centers and can perform non-emergency foreign body removal. You can visit any Patient First center from 8am to 8pm, any day of the week – no appointment is needed