Authored by JoannaRasmuson

What to Do if Your Child Swallows a Foreign Object?

September 27, 2019 | Family Medicine

Doctors call it “foreign body ingestion,” but for most parents and caregivers, the phenomenon is more frequently referred to as, “He swallowed what?!

You can take every precaution, but sometimes, in the blink of an eye, your child can swallow a random object before you have time to react. Fortunately, in most cases, the object will work its way through your child’s digestive system without incident. 

Still, you should seek medical attention to avoid serious problems.


Step 1: Identify the Foreign Object

If possible, try to determine what your child swallowed. This information will help your doctor determine the appropriate course of action.

If the ingested object poses an immediate danger, you may need to take your child to the emergency department. Any swallowed object that has sharp edges or that could become lodged in the esophagus could cause serious complications.


Some other hazardous items that require immediate attention include:

  • “Button” batteries (those shaped like a coin)
  • Latex balloons
  • Laundry pods
  • Pens or pen caps
  • Magnets

Some types of food also pose a danger if swallowed whole. These include:

  • Large items that can become lodged in the throat or esophagus (grapes, hot dogs, etc.)
  • Foods with a soft or gelatinous texture (marshmallows, gum)
  • Hard candies and gumballs

Step 2: Watch for Symptoms


If your child displays any of the symptoms below, seek medical treatment immediately:

  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Stomach pain
  • Refusing food

Even if your child does not display any symptoms, your family doctor may want to evaluate your child. Depending on what your child has ingested, your healthcare practitioner may recommend closely monitoring them for symptoms. In other cases, the doctor may order X-rays or other tests to help identify the object and its location.


Step 3: Prevent a Repeat Performance


Although you may not be able to prevent foreign body ingestion, you can take steps to minimize the risk:

  • Keep small objects out of your child’s reach.
  • Store potentially dangerous objects (e.g., batteries) in a well-secured spot.
  • Don’t let your child have toys with small parts (e.g., stuffed animals with buttons for eyes).
  • Ensure older children keep their small toys away from younger siblings
  • Instruct children never to put any foreign objects in their mouths.
  • Require kids to eat at the table and teach them to chew food thoroughly.
  • Avoid giving young children hard candy or gum.

Kids are naturally curious and prone to putting objects in their mouths, noses and ears. Consequently, you can’t be too careful about keeping potentially harmful objects out of reach. If you have questions or concerns about anything your child may have swallowed, contact your family medicine provider for assistance.


Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages and providing thorough and timely healthcare for the entire family throughout all stages of life.



“What to Do If Your Child Swallows Something.” American Family Physician (AFP).

“Dangerous Objects Kids Swallow.” Rush University Medical Center (RUMC).


The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.