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Swallowed foreign objects

What happens when a child swallows something they shouldn’t?

Children sometimes swallow foreign objects such as coins, toys and batteries. When an object is swallowed it will normally travel through the digestive system (see picture) without causing any problems or side effects.

Simple diagram of digestive system

Some objects can cause problems and will require more urgent medical assessment.

These include:

  • Objects such as multiple magnets – these may require urgent removal
  • Objects trapped in the oesophagus (food pipe) as it may not pass into the stomach
  • Swallowed button batteries need urgent assessment. They can get stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe) and cause damage within hours. Your child may need to undergo a procedure for it’s removal or be observed closely. You may be asked to return to the Emergency Department within 12 to 24 hours for a repeat assessment.

If your child has swallowed a metallic object such as a coin, they may be assessed with a metal detector. This will confirm that they have swallowed the item, and also identify if the object is in a safe location.

  • If an object is located above the nipple line, then they will most likely require an X-ray.
  • If the object is found to be in a safe location then you will be discharged home.

Advice for care at home

Most children will pass the object on their own in 2 to 10 days. Observe your child at home for any developing symptoms and

Do

✅ Return to Emergency Department or GP if your child complains of:

    • tummy (abdominal) pain
    • being sick (vomiting) with or without blood
    • bleeding from the bottom (rectum)
    • drooling or trouble swallowing food
    • anything else which concerns you
Don't

❌ Do not search through your child’s poo for the object
❌ Do not give laxatives to your child

What can I do about button battery or strong magnet safety?

  • Keep these things out of reach and sight of children. Keep spare batteries locked away.
  • Teach older children about the dangers and advise them not to give to younger children to play with.

You can find more information including safety advice here: Healthier Together: Swallowed foreign objects

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Disclaimer

Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: ED47

Resource Type: Article

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