Esophageal Foreign Body (Child)

The esophagus is the tube that leads from the mouth down to the stomach. It’s common for babies and toddlers to put objects in their mouths. If an object is swallowed, it can get stuck in the esophagus. This is called an esophageal foreign body.

This problem occurs mostly in children ages 6 months to 4 years. The most common objects that children swallow include coins, toy parts, batteries, or pins. Some foods can also get stuck in the esophagus. These include hard candy, grapes, popcorn, hot dog pieces, and raisins. Button batteries, often found in remote controls, are of major concern. If they become lodged in the esophagus, they can wear away the esophageal wall within hours. If you suspect your child may have swallowed a button battery, seek medical care immediately.

An object stuck in the esophagus can cause trouble swallowing. The child may drool, vomit, or refuse to eat. He or she may complain of chest pain, neck pain, or a feeling of something stuck in the throat. The child may have general symptoms, such as some drooling, but not appear to be in distress. If the object is not removed, it may injure the esophagus. This can make your child very ill.

A procedure called endoscopy may need to be done to look at and remove the object. To do this, a long, thin tube with a tiny camera is used. This is an endoscope. It is put into the child’s throat. In very rare cases, a child may need surgery. Once the object is removed, no other treatment is likely needed.

Home care

If the stuck object caused damage to the esophagus, you will be told how to care for your child during healing. Follow these instructions carefully.

Prevention in babies and toddlers

  • Supervise your child during meals. Children should sit down to eat. Cut food in small pieces. Encourage children to chew food well before swallowing. For children under age 4, don’t feed them nuts, popcorn, grapes, or other foods that might be swallowed whole.

  • Don’t give babies and toddlers toys with small, removable parts. Check toys often for loose or broken parts.

  • Check each room in the house often for small objects such as buttons, coins, and toy parts.

  • Because children learn by watching others, don’t put toothpicks, pins, or any sharp objects between your lips or in your mouth.

Prevention in older children

  • Supervise your child during meals. Children should sit down to eat. Teach your child to take small bites and to chew food well before swallowing.

  • Tell your child not to put pencils, beads, crayons, erasers, or other nonfood items in the mouth.

  • Teach children not to swallow gum.

  • Because children learn by watching others, don’t put toothpicks, pins, or any sharp objects between your lips or in your mouth.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Persistent high fever

  • Symptoms that come back

  • Abdominal pain, distension, or bloating

  • Constipation (unable to move bowels)

  • Vomiting

  • Blood in the stool

  • Persistent cough

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Refusing or not wanting to eat (food avoidance)

  • Pain in the esophagus

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