Foreign Body

A foreign body (or object) is anything that isn't meant to be swallowed. If the foreign body is swallowed, it may become stuck along the digestive tract. Typically, children between one and three years of age are at most risk of swallowing a foreign body, though this can happen at any age.

Symptoms

  • Poor feeding or swallowing problems
  • Coughing
  • Drooling
  • Pain
  • Vomiting

Exams and Tests

If you know your child absolutely or likely swallowed a foreign body, the pediatric GI specialist may order an X-ray to evaluate if the object is present and moving through the digestive tract.

Treatment

If a battery has been swallowed and is present in the esophagus, it must be removed with an endoscopy emergently to avoid life-threatening burns. If the foreign body is of no danger to your child and if it is known to pass through the digestive tract generally without complications, your pediatric gastroenterologist will recommend you watch your child's stool for four to five days to detect passage of the object. If the foreign body is of danger to your child or not something easily passed or if it is lodged in the esophagus, the pediatric GI specialist will perform endoscopy to remove the object.

An endoscope is a long flexible tube with a camera attached. For retrieval of a foreign body, a forcep (grasper) is inserted and used to remove the object from the digestive tract.

The procedure is done in the operating room under general anesthesia so that the child will not feel any pain. The pediatric gastroenterologist will pass the endoscope through the child's mouth and examine the esophagus, stomach and the duodenum (upper portion of the small intestine).

The doctor will talk with you and your child before the procedure and answer your questions. Some children may get a medication to help them relax before being taken to the operating room area. After the procedure, your child will be taken to the recovery room, allowed to fully awaken and then be brought out to you. The doctor will discuss the preliminary findings of the procedure and show pictures taken during the procedure. Your child will be allowed to go home in a couple of hours after the procedure but must be fully awake and able to drink liquids before being discharged home. The total time spent at the hospital will depend on the procedure time and the time for your child to wake up. It is best to expect to spend four to five hours at the hospital.

Points to Remember

  • Contact your health care provider if you believe your child has inhaled or swallowed a foreign body. If your child swallowed a battery, treat the event as an emergency and seek immediate care.
  • Most objects will pass through the digestive tract without complication, but it's important that you talk to your health care provider about treatment options.
  • If a foreign body isn't passable through the digestive tract, a pediatric GI specialist may perform endoscopy, an outpatient procedure, to remove the object.
  • Keep small objects out of reach of young children.
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