Minus/plus icon
ResourcesExplore the full ACKO experience and make the most of your plan

Home / Health Insurance / Articles / First Aid / First Aid Guide: Foreign object swallowed

First Aid Guide: Foreign object swallowed

Team AckoMay 13, 2024

A foreign object is anything in your body that shouldn't be there and has been accidentally swallowed. Items that aren't food or oral medications like pills are among the foreign objects. When you swallow a foreign object, it travels through your digestive system. This movement is caused by rhythmic muscle contractions called peristalsis. 

Along the way, the object must pass through six muscular valves called sphincters. Large, sharp, or odd-shaped objects can get stuck or damage the digestive tract at any point. Small, soft, or smooth objects usually pass without problems. 

Most objects will pass within a few days to a week, but some can take up to a month. However, certain objects might become lodged in the oesophagus, the tube that joins the mouth and stomach. They can also obstruct the airway and induce choking. 

In this situation, knowing the right thing to do can help save someone’s life. That’s why everyone should know the basic first aid techniques to help someone who is showing discomfort after swallowing a foreign object. Jump into this article to understand what to do while dealing with the medical emergency of someone swallowing a foreign object. 




What is the meaning of ‘Foreign Object Swallowed’?

‘Foreign Object Swallowed’ is caused by the unintentional swallowing of a foreign object. The object may become trapped in the neck or food pipe, resulting in an emergency medical crisis. In many situations, the ingested object reaches the stomach and, if it is tiny enough, is evacuated out of the body via faeces. However, in almost all circumstances, it is essential to seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

Foreign objects are inedible items that young children inadvertently consume. However, it can happen to adults too. These objects cause blockages in the food pipe or oesophagus. These can sometimes induce holes in the stomach wall. If the child is asymptomatic, no immediate treatment is required. However, if symptoms are apparent, immediate removal of the object is the only option.

Some ingested things pass through the body normally and get expelled through faeces. 

These things are usually harmless and include the following.

  • Tiny pebbles or stones

  • Fruits seeds

  • Teeth (If  they have been taken out)

However, certain objects can be extremely harmful if swallowed. These are some examples.

  • Large objects that are longer than 6 cm or broader than 2.5 cm

  • Magnets, particularly one or more magnets

  • Lead-based objects

  • Button batteries (they can cause significant harm or death by burning through the lining of the food pipe)

  • Marbles

  • Pins or other sharp objects

Symptoms of foreign objects swallowed

Symptoms in the case of foreign objects swallowed are usually very apparent. If the object restricts the airway, you will have symptoms right away. The following are the most prevalent symptoms.

  • Choking

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Pain in the chest, neck, or throat

  • Face turning blue, red, or white

  • Trouble in swallowing

If a child ingested an object easily and it did not become trapped inside their throat, there may be no apparent symptoms. However, symptoms will appear if the body has difficulty passing the object.

When an object becomes lodged in the oesophagus or colon, the following symptoms may occur.

  • Vomiting

  • Gagging

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Drooling

  • Blood in their vomit or stool

  • Refusal to eat

  • Fever

When an object remains in the body for an extended period of time without being treated, it can cause an infection, such as recurrent aspiration pneumonia. This can cause chest pain, a phlegmy cough, and wheezing. A fever may accompany these symptoms.

Diagnosis of a Swallowed Foreign Object

If you or someone you are acquainted with has swallowed a foreign item, the initial action is to contact your medical professional or head to the nearest emergency department. Immediate treatment is crucial if a pointed item, shattered glass, magnets, or a cell has been swallowed. The medical professional will conduct a physical assessment and request imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan to pinpoint the object.

Quick action: First Aid for the foreign objects swallowed

When a foreign object becomes trapped in the throat, it is best to cough without interfering. If the airway has been closed by the object, or if the person is having difficulty breathing and coughing, use a five-and-five strategy to deal with the problem until medical help arrives.

If the person is experiencing trouble breathing

  • Perform five back blows 

  • Perform five abdominal thrusts 

  • Alter between five blows and five thrusts till the obstruction is removed.

If the victim is obese or pregnant

  • Do not do the Heimlich manoeuvre by pressing on the abdominal region; instead, press on the centre of the victim's chest and squeeze it.

If you're doing abdominal thrusts on yourself

  • Place your hand slightly over your navel. With the other hand, make a fist and lean over a hard surface. Move your fist inward and upward until you dislodge the object from your airways or till help arrives. Once the object has been removed, examine the area for any symptoms of inflammation or discomfort.

If the choking person becomes unconscious

  • Place the individual's back on the floor and arms to the sides.

  • If you can see the thing, insert your finger inside the mouth and sweep it out. If you can't see the thing, never sweep the object with your finger because it may push the obstruction more into the airway. This is especially dangerous for young children.

  • If the airway remains closed, do chest compressions. If the airway is clear and you need to apply rescue breaths. Limit yourself to two rescue breaths per cycle. Check the mouth for the object on a frequent basis.

Also read: Ayushman Bharat Health Account

Treatment Options For A Swallowed Foreign Object

Sometimes, a foreign object swallowed resolves on its own and doesn't require medical attention. But in some cases, an object that has been swallowed can become lodged in a constricted area of the GI tract and require manual or surgical removal. The treatment options include the following:


Sometimes, it's necessary to manually remove a swallowed foreign object, particularly if it becomes stuck in the oesophagus. Removal should occur within 24 hours to avoid complications. Oesophagal blockages pose the highest risk, as some complications can be dangerous due to the organ's proximity to the heart and lungs. 

To remove the object, a doctor will insert an endoscope, a lighted camera, through your mouth and into the oesophagus. They can then use tools passed through the endoscope to locate, dislodge, and extract the object.

During most endoscopies, patients receive light sedation to keep them comfortable. However, in more complex cases, general anaesthesia may be necessary. Immediate endoscopic intervention is crucial in specific situations: 

  • When a foreign object is lodged in the upper oesophagus 

  • When the airway is completely blocked 

  • When a battery or sharp object has been swallowed


Surgical methods might be necessary to remove swallowed objects in a rare number of cases. Usually, surgeons use laparoscopy, where small incisions are made to insert a thin, lighted scope and specialized tools to retrieve the object. 

However, if the object is large or has caused a severe wound, traditional open surgery may be necessary. This involves using a scalpel, a larger incision, and general anaesthesia.

Surgery might be necessary when: 

  • Extraction using an endoscope doesn't work. 

  • A long, sharp, or pointy object has been swallowed. 

  • A battery or magnet has moved past the duodenum (the curved part of the intestine connected to the stomach). 

  • A non-sharp object hasn't moved beyond the duodenum after 72 hours, according to X-rays or CT scans. 

  • Signs of poisoning are present in someone who has swallowed objects.

Preventing foreign object ingestion

Instructing caretakers about foreign-object ingestion can help protect children in their care from ingesting non-edible objects.

Prevention measures may include the following.

  • Cut food into tiny pieces for small kids so that it will be convenient for them to chew. Teach them proper chewing techniques.

  • Avoid talking, laughing, or playing with food in your mouth while eating.

  • Children under the age of three should not be given potentially hazardous items. 

  • Keep the smaller objects out of young children's reach.

Things not to do when a person has swallowed a foreign object

The thought of a foreign object swallowed by a baby can be scary. It is equally concerning when it happens with an adult. But you should stay calm in such situations and avoid doing the following things which might bring worse outcomes:

  • Never panic: Getting anxious can make the situation worse and impede your capacity to assist the individual who has ingested the item. Remain composed, as the majority of swallowed items transit through the digestive tract without causing any damage.

  • Never force the person to vomit: Although inducing vomiting might be an immediate reaction, it can be dangerous. Sharp or large objects can cause injuries to your throat, food pipe, or breathing tube if you try to vomit them out.

  • Never make the person eat or drink anything forcefully: Do not offer food or drinks immediately after swallowing an object. Ingesting anything can push the object deeper into the digestive system, possibly blocking it or causing harm.

  • Never try to remove the foreign object with your fingers: Attempting to extract the object by hand from the person's mouth or throat may result in choking or the thing becoming lodged further. Let medical professionals focus on removing the object.

  • Never try medications or home remedies without consulting a medical professional: Don't give the person any medication or attempt to remove the object with homemade cures. These might not be safe or effective, and they can make the condition worse.

  • Never shy away from getting medical help: If a foreign object is swallowed and it's toxic, huge, or pointy, medical treatment needs to be sought right away. Even if the person first seems unhurt, you should seek medical attention.

  • Never ignore signs of discomfort: If an individual encounters symptoms such as breathlessness, gagging, intense discomfort, or ongoing coughing, it is crucial not to ignore these indicators. They could suggest that the item is leading to complications and demands immediate medical attention.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about First Aid for foreign objects swallowed.


What should I do if I swallow something?

If you have swallowed something, then you should refrain from eating or drinking anything until you discuss your situation with a healthcare practitioner. This is because if you need to go to the hospital and the object needs to be removed, you may be required to be on an empty stomach. It is essential not to attempt to make someone vomit because this could result in blocking the airway.

When should I be worried about a swallowed object?

If your child is suffocating or refuses to eat or drink, has stomach pain, vomiting, bloody faeces, or coughs constantly, consult a doctor. If the object hasn't passed in three days and your child is getting sick, see a doctor. 

What happens if you swallow a hard object?

In many circumstances, the swallowed object gets cleared by the digestive system and eventually exits the body. However, in other situations, the object may become lodged or cause harm as it travels through the body. If this occurs, you must seek medical attention.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


Want to post any comments?


Affordable Health Insurance for You & Your Family starting @ ₹20/day*

✅ 100% Room Rent Covered* ✅ Zero deductions at claims ✅ 7100+ Cashless Hospitals

quote icon

Check health insurance

quote icon