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Esophageal Foreign Body

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is esophageal foreign body?

Esophageal foreign body is an object you swallowed that got stuck in your esophagus (throat). Examples include dental work and button batteries. A piece of food or a fish bone can also become stuck in your esophagus.

What increases my risk for esophageal foreign body?

Your risk increases if you wear dentures, have trouble swallowing, or have a narrow esophagus. You also have a higher risk if you eat fish that contains small bones.

What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal foreign body?

  • Pain when you swallow, difficulty swallowing, or a sore throat
  • 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 esophageal foreign body diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your throat, chest, and abdomen. Tell him what type of object you swallowed and when you swallowed it. Your healthcare provider may use any of the following to find the object:

  • A barium swallow or other x-rays may be used to check your neck, chest, and abdomen. You will drink thick liquid called barium while healthcare providers take x-rays. Barium helps your esophagus and stomach show up on x-rays.
  • Laryngoscopy is used to examine the back of your throat. Your healthcare provider will use a light and a mirror. He may insert a tube called a scope to see deep into your throat.
  • A metal detector may be used to look for coins or other metal objects in your body.
  • A CT may be used to check for objects in your esophagus or stomach. You may be given contrast liquid to help your esophagus and stomach show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • Endoscopy may be used 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 esophageal foreign body treated?

Your healthcare provider may choose to observe you for 24 hours or longer. Most objects 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 healthcare provider may remove it. He 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 may be used to remove the object.
  • Forceps may be used to grab an object if your healthcare provider can see it in the back of your throat. Forceps also may be used to remove an object during endoscopy.
  • Bougienage is a procedure used to push the object into your stomach. Your healthcare provider will insert a thin tube into your esophagus to widen it. This may be done if the object is smooth and likely to pass through your digestive system normally.
  • A balloon catheter may be used to pull the object out of your esophagus. The catheter is a thin tube with a deflated balloon at the end. Your healthcare provider will insert the balloon catheter into your mouth or nose until it goes past the object. He will then inflate the balloon. This procedure may be done if the object is smooth or blunt.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments fail to remove the object.

Call 911 for any of the following:

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

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have more pain when you swallow.
  • You have severe vomiting.
  • Your vomit is bloody.
  • Your bowel movements are black or bloody.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You do not find the object in your bowel movement within 2 or 3 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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