Swallowed Object

Side view of girl's head and neck showing upper respiratory anatomy and upper digestive anatomy.Young children often put small objects, such as marbles, pins, or coins, in their mouths. These objects may then be swallowed. Although this can be frightening, it's not always cause for concern. Most often, the object will pass through your child's system without harm. But a foreign object may become stuck in the esophagus (food tube) or trachea (windpipe). In that case, your child needs prompt medical care.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Contact your child's doctor if you think your child has swallowed a nonfood object. Don't try to remove the object yourself. This may cause more harm. Seek emergency help if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing, speaking, or swallowing.

  • Is spitting up saliva or vomiting.

  • Has chest pain, stomach pain, or pain when swallowing.

What to expect in the ER

  • A doctor will ask about the swallowed object and perform a physical exam.

  • X-rays may be taken to help locate the object, although this depends on your child's symptoms and what the object was.

  • In some cases, a test called a barium swallow or  cat scan (CT) may be used. This might be done if you are not sure, but suspect an object was swallowed and it does not show up on plain X-ray. In a barium swallow, your child drinks a thick liquid and X-rays are then taken. CT scanning is a special X-ray test and may be used if your doctor suspects an abscess has formed or if there is concern about rupture of the digestive tract. This helps your doctor see objects that may not show up on other tests.


Treatment will depend on the type of object and where it's located. Your doctor may suggest one of the following measures:

  • Watchful waiting: A smooth object that has not gotten stuck may pass on its own in 24 hours.

  • Esophagoscopy: To remove an object and check for any damage, an esophagoscope (a lighted, telescope-like tube) may be used. The instrument is put down into the esophagus through the mouth. Your child will be given medication so he or she "sleeps" through the procedure.


Call your child's doctor or return to the ER if your child:

  • Is nauseated or vomits.

  • Has stomach pain or bloody stools.