Caring for Kids

Did Your Child Put a Small Object Where It Doesn’t Belong?

Share This

By Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D.

Ever experience the horror of discovering your child has inserted a small object where it shouldn’t go? You’re not alone. Many parents know the panic that sets in when a child puts Legos, coins, marbles or even cotton balls in his nose, mouth or ears.

The good news: In most cases, these objects are easy to retrieve, if not on your own, then with the help of a professional.

Retrieving Small Objects: A Step-by-Step Guide

Most cases of kids swallowing a foreign object or stuffing something into their nose or ears don’t require medical intervention. I see only one or two cases like this each year. Using the step-by-step guide below often helps parents easily resolve the issue at home.

1. Stay calm: Few objects pose a serious threat to your child’s health and safety. Even if the situation seems scary, remaining calm will not only help your child follow your lead, it will also help you retrieve the object safely.

2. Assess the situation: If the object is easy to access, by all means, take it out. If you can’t easily retrieve it without using another foreign object like tweezers, it’s best to leave it alone until you can get professional help. Do not attempt to blow in the child’s mouth to dislodge something from his/her nose. While this is a popular strategy on social media, your mouth is full of bacteria that could increase your child’s risk of infection.

3. Consider the point of entry: The path to resolution will vary depending whether the object was swallowed by mouth or stuffed into an ear or nose. If it went by mouth, talk to your child’s pediatrician. The doctor may order an x-ray to see if the object is still present or recommend waiting it out. If the object doesn’t appear in the child’s poop within 5 to 7 days, your provider may order a follow-up x-ray to determine where it is. If the swallowed object is a flat-top battery (like a 9-volt), a magnet or something that has sharp edges, see a health care provider immediately. These objects can cause tears or burns in the esophagus or damage tissue in the GI tract.

4. See a professional: If you can’t easily remove the object, contact your child’s pediatrician. Leaving it in place could cause further damage. Doctors have unique tools that can grab small objects without damaging the fragile mucosal lining in the nose and delicate structures in the ears. If we can’t get it out, we’ll refer the child to an ear, nose and throat specialist or emergency medicine.

Prevent Objects from Entry

The best way to retrieve a small object from where it doesn’t belong is to avoid putting it there in the first place. Children are curious. They may experiment with their bodies or copy other children. They might even accidentally inhale a foreign object when they’re trying to smell it.

In addition to childproofing and number of simple strategies can help:

  • Vacuum regularly: If small objects aren’t lying in plain view, kids are less likely to put them in their ears, nose and mouth. 
  • Get down on your hands and knees: When you’re down low, you’re better equipped to assess what your kids can get into. Remove potential threats, paying special attention to small objects such as Legos, marbles and pennies.
  • Put safety locks on drawers and cabinets: Ordinary items like staples, paper clips and batteries are all attractive and interesting to kids. If you lock your drawers and cabinets, they’ll never see them.

Even older children are prone to stick objects where they don’t belong. Take the time to teach your children how to be responsible with foreign bodies. Show them how to clean their ears without going too deep. And if you do run into trouble, don’t hesitate to call a professional.

Related Topic: Child Safety: Preventing Accidental Injuries in Summer (or Anytime)

To find a doctor or pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Want more advice from Henry Ford experts?  Subscribe today to receive weekly emails of our latest tips.