When you swallow food, liquid, or an object, what is
swallowed passes from your mouth through your throat and
esophagus into your stomach. A swallowed object will
usually pass through the rest of your
digestive tract without problems and show up in your stool in a few days. If food
or a nonfood item gets stuck along the way, a problem may develop that will
require a visit to a doctor.
Sometimes when you try to swallow, the
swallowed substance "goes down the wrong way" and gets inhaled into your
windpipe or lungs (aspirated). This occurs most often in children who are
younger than 3 years and in adults who are older than age 50. When you do
inhale a substance, coughing is a normal reaction of the body to clear the
throat and windpipe. The cough is helpful and may clear up the problem.
Inhaling a substance into your lungs can cause a lung inflammation and
infection (aspiration pneumonia).
The situation may
be more serious when:
About 80% to 90% of swallowed objects, like chewing gum, are harmless and pass through the
gastrointestinal tract without problems. But some types of objects can
cause more serious problems when they are swallowed. These include:
Your doctor may recommend tests such as an
barium swallow to help find the object if it doesn't
come out in the stool, or if an inhaled object is not coughed out. See an
X-ray of a swallowed object. A special metal detector (not the same kind that
people use in their yards) might be used to locate a metallic object, such as a
coin, inside the body. Your doctor may then recommend a procedure to remove the
object or may simply encourage you to continue to check the stool for the
passage of the object.
Check your symptoms to
decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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The following home treatment may
help relieve discomfort after you swallow or inhale an object.
Do not use syrup of ipecac. It is no
longer used to treat poisonings. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home,
call your pharmacist for instructions on how to dispose of it
and throw away the container. Do not store anything
else in the container.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
To prevent children younger than 4 years
from swallowing or inhaling objects:
For more information about how to prevent accidental
poisoning, see the topic
Poisoning. Keep the poison control center number for
your area readily available.
Practice the following suggestions
when eating, and teach them to your children. Children may copy your
To be prepared for a choking emergency, take an approved first
aid course such as those that are sponsored by the American Heart Association
or the American Red Cross.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
August 8, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
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