I think my child swallowed a marble or something. What should I do?
If your child swallowed something that's not sharp or otherwise potentially dangerous and it doesn't seem stuck in her throat, she'll probably do just fine on her own. It's likely that she'll pass the object in her stool and end up no worse for the experience.
While you wait, keep a close eye on her and call her doctor if she starts vomiting, drooling, refusing to eat, running a fever, coughing, wheezing, or making a whistling sound when inhaling. Give the doctor a call if you don't see the object in your child's stool in the next couple of days. (To check, put the poop in a strainer and run hot water over it.)
If you think your child swallowed something sharp (like a toothpick or needle) or otherwise dangerous (like a watch battery or more than one small magnet), head for the doctor right away even if she seems fine.
Such things may need to be removed rather than allowed to pass. They can perforate a child's esophagus, stomach, or intestines; leach dangerous substances; or even create a small electric current. (One small magnet will pass, but two or more magnets can cause different parts of the intestines to magnetically stick together, leading to twisting, obstruction, or perforation.)
What will the doctor do?
It depends on what your child swallowed and whether it seems to be stuck. The doctor may take an X-ray to find out where the object is.
If the doctor thinks the object will move safely through your child's system on its own (as most objects do), you may be told to keep an eye on your child and his bowels over the next few days. During that time, imaging tests – such as additional X-rays or a CT scan to visualize the object or track its progress – may be done.
If the object is in your child's airway or stuck in his esophagus or stomach – or if it's dangerous to wait for the object to pass because it's sharp or otherwise hazardous – the doctor will remove it.
Most likely an endoscope (a long, thin, lighted tool) will be used if the object is in your child's esophagus or stomach. If it's in his airway, a similar instrument, called a bronchoscope, will be used. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove a swallowed object.
What if my child is choking on the object?
See our illustrated guide to doing CPR for babies or children 12 months and older. It's a good idea to learn these techniques before you'll ever need them by taking an infant and child CPR course.
Is there any way to keep my child from putting stuff in her mouth?
Not really. It's an instinctive way for babies and young children to learn about the world around them and a constant risk until about 4 years of age. Lectures about the dangers of choking are pointless. Vigilance is the best plan.
What safety precautions can I take?
Here are some basic tips:
- Check your floors and counters for items that your child might find and put in his mouth. Buttons, jewelry, pins, coins, popped balloons, pen caps, paper clips, tacks, screws and nails, crayons, marbles, and button-size batteries, for example, should be kept out of reach.
- Keep an especially watchful eye on kids when you're visiting someone else's home. All kinds of enticing (and unsafe) items might be within reach.
- Pay close attention during the holidays, at home and away. Interesting foods and playthings are everywhere.
- Make sure toys, dolls, and stuffed animals are safe for your little one, with no small parts that might come off.
- Get trained in CPR yourself, and make sure all your child's babysitters and daycare providers are trained in it.
Read more about choking hazards for children.