What to Expect If Your Child Swallows Something They Shouldn’t

A young girl visits the UVA pediatric radiology department

When your child swallows something they aren’t supposed to, it can be a frightening experience to parent and child alike. But when you come to the emergency room, the doctors will help you safely take care of it.


What to Expect When Your Child Swallows Something

Sometimes you know when your child has swallowed something they shouldn’t have because you see them do it. Other times, you notice excessive drooling, unusual coughing, painful swallowing, or respiratory distress. With kids, it happens.

When you know or suspect your child has swallowed something they shouldn’t have, take them straight to the emergency room so that a doctor can help. Emergency protocol varies based on what the foreign object is, but it usually starts at the same place: with medical imaging.

“We use imaging to assist in locating the potential foreign object,” said Chief Diagnostic Technologist Anthony Calise. “We follow the doctor’s orders. Sometimes it will be a just a chest, abdomen, or soft-tissue neck x-ray, but sometimes we include imaging that shows everything from the nose to the rectum.”

An x-ray after a patient swallows a foreign objectWhat happens after the imaging is up to a radiologist and the other doctors. Some swallowed objects are very harmful and need to be removed immediately, while others are less of a threat and can be persuaded out naturally.

Button batteries pose a real hazard and can be quite dangerous if ingested,” said Anthony. “Also, one magnet may be ok, but two magnets could be dangerous. Most often, I have seen a lot of things like coins and jewelry.”

If you don’t know what your child has swallowed, get to an emergency room. If it is sharp or metallic, it may need to be removed. With clear medical images, radiologists can work with other doctors to help analyze the object. This allows them to determine the seriousness of the threat and how to best remove the object.

For more articles on imaging children, click here. more guidance on when to visit the emergency room, check out what the American Family Physician has to say here.

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