foreign objects

Children and the Dangers of ‘Foreign Objects’

4 July 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

One of the most common causes of parents needing to visit a hospital’s emergency room arises from the dangers of ‘foreign objects’.

Here we’ll look at children, the dangers of foreign objects for them and what you can do to reduce the risks.

Foreign objects

This term in the context of children’s health simply means something turning up somewhere in a child where it really shouldn’t be.

That usually means the child has:

  • ingested (eaten or swallowed) something that’s not a foodstuff;
  • inserted something into one of their body cavities, typically their nose, ear or mouth but sometimes including their anus or genitals.

Note that in this article, we will not be discussing the separate subject of substances swallowed that lead to poisoning.

Reasons and ages

The reasons children do this are many and varied.

Sometimes they may just be assuming the object is edible. In many other instances, the reasons are unclear but a presumption is that children are simply experimenting with the world around them, including both their own bodies and foreign objects.

This is more typically associated with babies, toddlers and younger pre-school age children but it can happen at later ages too.

Visibility and invisibility

Many parents have experienced the horror of seeing their child suddenly appear with something in their ear or up their nose. Even more common is the experience of seeing your child seemingly trying to put a foreign object into one of their body cavities.

If you can see what they’ve done, you can decide on the appropriate action to tackle these foreign objects.

Modern advice is to NOT try and remove the object yourself but to take the child to a medical specialist or hospital at once. This may need to be balanced by the risk of your child pushing the object further into themselves while you’re doing so.

Judgement will be needed on a case-by-case basis.

As a general rule, never insert tweezers, tongs, grips, fingers or any other tool into your child’s body cavities. Leave it to the professionals.

That assumes that the object is visible and you can see what’s happening. If your child has pushed something in so far you can’t see it, your first indication of trouble may be some symptoms. Examples include:

  • objects in the throat;
  • coughing and excessive signs of swallowing;
  • pain;
  • redness/blueness around the lips and face;
  • gagging reflex;
  • difficulty in breathing and choking. In this case, you should call emergency services immediately but may need to start emergency processes yourself without delay. Ideally, these should have been studied beforehand as part of an ‘emergency first aid for children’ course;
  • objects in the upper stomach area;
  • vomiting;
  • pain;
  • going ‘off’ food and drink;
  • objects that have made their way to the bowel;
  • constipation;
  • pain;
  • blood in the faeces;
  • objects in ears;
  • partial or full hearing loss;
  • pain and possibly inflammation;
  • headaches and discharges;
  • the genitals & anus (rare);
  • swelling;
  • pain;
  • difficulties in or reluctance to try, peeing/pooing;
  • blood in urine or faeces.

 Top tips

All parents should be aware that for babies, toddlers and children under 3-4, there is a real risk of these situations arising.

The most important step to take is to try and control their access to objects that are small enough to eat or push in somewhere. Constant vigilance is necessary though it may not always be possible.

So, do remember the importance of good emergency first aid training for children.

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