Foreign Body Ingestion

What is foreign body ingestion?

Foreign body ingestion is when an object becomes stuck in your esophagus (throat). Examples of foreign bodies include dental work and button batteries. A piece of food or a fish bone can also become stuck in your esophagus.

What increases the risk for foreign body ingestion?

You are at greater risk for foreign body ingestion if you wear dentures. Your risk is higher if you have trouble swallowing of have a narrow esophagus. There is also a higher risk if you eat fish that contains small bones.

What are the signs and symptoms of foreign body ingestion?

The main symptoms are pain when you swallow, difficulty swallowing, or a sore throat. You may also have any of the following:

  • Drooling or vomiting

  • Choking or gagging

  • Chest pain, abdominal pain, or a feeling that something is in your throat

  • A cough or noisy breathing

How is foreign body ingestion diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine your throat, chest, and abdomen. He may ask you to point to the area where you feel something is stuck. Tell him what type of object you ingested and when it happened. Tell him your symptoms. Your caregiver may use any of the following to find the foreign body:

  • Barium swallow and other x-rays: You will drink thick liquid called barium while caregivers take x-rays. Barium helps your esophagus and stomach show up on x-rays. You may also need x-rays of your neck, chest, and abdomen.

  • Laryngoscopy: Your caregiver will use a light and a mirror to see the back of your throat. He may insert a tube called a scope to see deep into your throat.

  • Metal detector: Your caregiver may use this to look for coins or other metal objects in your body.

  • CT scan: Your caregiver will use a computer to take pictures of your esophagus and stomach. You may be given dye by mouth or in an IV before the pictures are taken. The dye helps your caregiver see the pictures better. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish or have other allergies or medical conditions.

  • Endoscopy: This test uses a scope to see the inside of your digestive system. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a light on the end of it. A camera attached to the scope will take pictures.

How is foreign body ingestion treated?

Your caregiver may choose to observe you for 24 hours or longer. Most foreign bodies pass through the digestive system on their own within 7 to 10 days. Objects that are small or smooth will often pass without a problem. You will need to search for the object every time you have a bowel movement. You may need x-rays from time to time as you wait for the object to come out. If you are in pain or the object is large or sharp, your caregiver may remove it. Your caregiver will look for the object in your throat. He will remove the object if he can see it. He may need to use instruments if it is stuck so far down that he cannot see it. He may do this with any of the following:

  • Endoscopy: Your caregiver may use a variety of tools to remove the foreign object.

  • Forceps: This tool may be used to grab a foreign body if your caregiver can see it in the back of your throat. Forceps also may be used to remove a foreign body during endoscopy.

  • Bougienage: Your caregiver inserts a thin tube into your esophagus to widen it. He uses a tool to push the foreign body into your stomach. This may be done if the object is smooth and likely to pass through your digestive system normally.

  • Balloon catheter: This is a thin tube with a deflated balloon at the end. Your caregiver will insert the balloon catheter into your mouth or nose until it goes past the object. Then, the balloon is inflated. Your caregiver will gently pull the balloon and the object out of your esophagus. This may be done if the object is smooth or blunt.

  • Surgery: Rarely, you may need surgery if other treatments fail to remove the object.

What are the risks of foreign body ingestion?

The removal of a foreign body can cause cuts and bleeding. There is a risk that the foreign body could poke a hole in your esophagus. Without treatment, you are at risk for infection. Large or sharp objects can cause heavy internal bleeding. This can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You do not find the foreign object in your bowel movement within 2 or 3 days.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition, treatment, or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have more difficulty or pain when you swallow.

  • You have severe vomiting.

  • You have chest or abdominal pain, or shortness of breath.

  • Your vomit is bloody.

  • Your bowel movements are black or bloody.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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