ACCIDENTAL INGESTIONS: OBJECTS (NOT MEDICATIONS/CHEMICALS)

ACCIDENTAL INGESTIONS: OBJECTS (NOT MEDICATIONS/CHEMICALS)

Thanks A.D. from Massachusetts for your recent topic suggestion on accidental ingestions. (The child had swallowed part of a rubber ball.)

At some point, all children swallow something other than food. The question is whether you need to worry about what was ingested. Here are a few guidelines. (Note: In this article, I am not addressing medications or chemicals, both of which are an entirely different animal – both of which usually require medical intervention.)

When To Worry/Seek Medical Care:

If the object has compromised your child’s ability to breath (big objects can get stuck in the esophagus and push on the trachea). If your child is breathing fast, coughing a lot, or drooling; those can all be worry signs.

If the object could have gone down your child’s airway (not into the stomach). Things that go down “the wrong pipe” (i.e., the trachea and into the lungs), almost always have to be fished out. Objects left in the lungs can cause recurrent pneumonias that will never resolve until the object is taken out.

If the object is:

  • A magnet of any size or type, especially more than one. This is one of the most dangerous objects to ingest. Do not delay getting help. The difference of a few hours in getting it out can be life or death.
  • A battery of any size or type. These are also potentially very dangerous and you should urgently seek medical care.
  • Anything sharp. Things like pins, nails, hooks, etc. should all be monitored by a physician. (I know you’re thinking, who can swallow that, but I have seen a kid swallow each one of those objects). The risk is that the sharp object can get stuck or perforate (make a hole) along the way out.

If your child is having a pain/distress in the GI tract (anywhere along the path: mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, to out)

Objects Generally OK To Watch At Home

Most things that kids swallow come out over time without causing problems. Items such as:

  • Pieces of toys (plastic, rubber, fabric, stuffing, metal, etc.)
  • Paper/tissue
  • Bugs
  • Bottle caps (plastic kind)
  • Coins (In my career I’ve seen over $2 in coins ingested. Even kids seem to have an obsession with money. Coins can be tricky, since big ones can get stuck in the esophagus and have to be taken out).
  • Plants (Know which plants, some are poisonous)
  • Dirt/rocks (If your child regularly eats dirt, talk to your doctor. Your child may have low iron).

Should I Induce Vomiting?

The general rule of thumb is NO, do not give your child anything to make him/her throw up. The days of using Ipecac are over (it should not be part of the medicines in your medicine cabinet). If the object makes your child vomit, that’s a different story. Leave your child alone and don’t try to stop the vomiting.

Will X-Rays Help?

The answer is maybe. X-Rays can only detect things that are what we call “radio-opaque.” So you will only see on x-ray things like metal. Objects like plastic, rubber, fabric, stuffing, and paper will not show up on x-ray.

What Do I Do?

If your child has swallowed something that can be managed at home, then you simply wait and watch for it to come out. The way you “watch for it to come out,” is the gross part. You strain/check each stool for the object until you find it. Note that sometimes an object will get delayed at a bend in the intestines, so may take a few weeks to see the object (although a few days is most typical).

Some of the Products I Love

BOOSTER SEATS: THE FACTS AND MY FAVES

One of the questions I get a lot include, "What is the best booster seat?" and "What are the top-rated booster seats?" Here's what I know, and what I use: Booster seats are car seats designed to be used by children between the ages of 4-8 years-old. The seat belt in a...

10 THINGS YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR MEDICINE CABINET

Everyone should have a few common, key items in their medicine cabinet. These few items should help in a pinch, and save you from making trips to the store in the middle of the night. Here are the must haves to any medicine cabinet: Tylenol (generic is acetaminophen)....

SHOULD I BUY A BREAST PUMP?

If you are having a baby and planning on breastfeeding, you may want to consider buying a breast pump. The most valuable time to have a breast pump is generally in the first few days after having a baby. So if you’re going to invest in one, do so early. Consider...

About The Author

Dr. Monica Wonnacott

I'm a pediatrician and a mom. I've been doing this doctor thing for 10 years, and love it. I'm known for giving parents the straight scoop without always sugar-coating it. And I believe in educating parents. The more you know, the better care you give your kids.

Dr. Monica Wonnacott


I'm a pediatrician and a mom. PediatricAnswers.com is my blog where parents can get the straight scoop on their child's health, largely based on my experience in the office and at home. I don't diagnose on the site, so please don't ask. These are just my opinions. Use this site as a resource. And trust your parent gut.

Subscribe Now

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER?

I send out a free newsletter with some of the articles and recommendations from the site. If you haven't already, please subscribe...and share with your friends on Facebook.

Thanks for subscribing. You'll start getting my newsletter soon.

Share This