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Swallowed object

2-minute read

It’s easy to accidentally swallow something you shouldn’t, especially if you’re a child.

If you or your child swallow a foreign body, it will probably be okay. Most small non-toxic items will progress through the body without problem and be passed in stools (poo).

The following objects usually cause no problems:

  • small stones or pebbles
  • pips or stones from fruit
  • teeth (if they’ve been knocked out).

You should go to the nearest emergency department for an assessment if you or your child has swallowed magnets or batteries (including flat batteries).

You should also go to the nearest emergency department for an assessment if the object was large (for young children, this means larger than about 18mm across).

Things which are pointy – like toothpicks or broken chicken bones – very occasionally cause problems. They may seem okay at first, but can cause problems within a day or two in the bowel. If you or your child has swallowed something sharp and pointy, you should speak to a doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Coughing or breathing troubles

Occasionally, something which has been swallowed can cause a blockage or swelling of the airways. This can cause:

  • trouble breathing
  • coughing that won’t stop
  • wheezing (or a whistling sound while breathing)
  • drooling or bringing up saliva
  • loss of consciousness.

If you or your child has these symptoms, call for emergency help: triple zero (000).

Read more about treatments for swallowed objects.

Swallowing objects deliberately

Some people may swallow objects deliberately to harm or injure themselves. If you have done this, you should know you are not alone and help is available. Please discuss this with a healthcare professional straight away.

Find out more about self harm.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2017

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