Uh Oh, Your Child Swallowed Something: What Do You Do?

If you have a young child, you know how curious your little one is about everything. Because most young children identify objects through taste, anything can end up in your child’s mouth and potentially create a poison or choking hazard.

“How you deal with a foreign object your child has swallowed will vary depending on what was swallowed,” said Jasjot Johar, MD, medical director of the emergency department at McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colorado. “Certain objects, like those with sharp edges or chemicals, are more worrisome than a coin, but even a coin stuck in the upper airway or trachea could choke a child.”

Hopefully, you never have to worry about your child swallowing something dangerous. Just in case, review these tips and the quick list below to be prepared.

I think my child may have swallowed something, but he isn’t coughing or gasping for air. Should I still be concerned?

Yes. According to Dr. Johar, even a seemingly benign object like a coin stuck in the esophagus can lead to severe complications, including a buildup of saliva that can cause breathing issues. This is a possible life-threatening issue and should be evaluated by a physician right away.

My daughter swallowed a small object. She just vomited, but she seems to be breathing fine. Is this still an emergency?

Yes. While coughing or gasping for air are clear signs of danger, vomit can also be a sign that something is wrong. “If the foreign object has passed into her stomach, your daughter may experience abdominal pain or show no symptoms at all, but vomiting is a sign that the object is stuck somewhere in her gastrointestinal tract and needs removal.”

My child may have eaten a laundry pod. Could she be in danger?

Yes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “household cleaning products rank in the top 5 most common poison exposures for children who are 5 years of age and younger.”

Due to their high concentration, laundry detergent capsules can be more dangerous than straight laundry detergent when ingested. If you suspect your child has swallowed one of these pods, contact the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center hotline - (800) 222-1222 - immediately.

Should I try to remove the swallowed item myself?

No. If you can clearly see the object and easily grasp it, you may try to get it out, but blindly putting your fingers into your child's mouth may inadvertently push the object further down and worsen airway issues, preventing your child from being able to breathe at all, said Dr. Johar. Your safest bet is to dial 911; paramedics have the training and equipment to help a child with airway issues.

Can a swallowed object come out in my child’s stool?

Yes. Once the foreign object passes through your child’s stomach it will usually progress through the intestines and pass in the stool. This may be uncomfortable for your child but is rarely dangerous. Depending on what was swallowed, your physician may suggest you check the stool to confirm passage.

The object my child swallowed has not passed in his stool. Will he need surgery to have it removed?

Maybe. Larger objects or those with potential to do harm may need to be removed, according to Dr. Johar. Objects stuck in the esophagus or still inside the stomach can usually be removed endoscopically to prevent damage to the sensitive tissues. Surgery is the only option once the object passes beyond the pylorus and into the intestines, especially to remove objects that could be dangerous such as needles, tacks or chemical or corrosive items like batteries. Your child’s physician will weigh the benefits and risks of any removal procedures.

Can the Heimlich Maneuver be used successfully on a child?

Yes. It is highly recommended that you, and anyone else who watches your child, be well-trained on this life-saving skill. For younger children, back blows and abdominal thrusts should be used to try to dislodge a foreign object in the airway.

Child Swallowed Something Infographic

Life with young children is unpredictable. That’s why Banner Children’s is nearby to help you manage any unforeseen emergency medical needs your family might face. 

Paternidad Salud del niño Prevención de envenenamientos Seguridad Infografía

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