Foreign Objects in the Body

Written by MaryAnn DePietro | Published on October 18, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on October 18, 2013

What Are Foreign Objects in the Body?

In medical terms, a foreign object is something that is in the body but does not belong there. Foreign objects may be inserted into the body accidentally or intentionally. They are also sometimes swallowed. They can become lodged or stuck in various parts of the body, such as the ears, nose, eyes, and airways. Children are most likely to get foreign objects lodged in their body (Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford).

Types of Foreign Objects

Many types of foreign object can be swallowed or inserted into the body. The most common parts of the body for foreign objects to be found are the ears, nose, airways, and stomach.

Young children may place objects into their ears for various reasons. Often, they are playing or copying another child. Objects that commonly become stuck in the ear are crayon tips, toys, and food.

Children also commonly place objects into their noses. These objects often include pencil erasers, nuts, and small toys.

When a foreign object becomes trapped in an airway, it can cause a life-threatening medical situations. A foreign object may interfere with breathing. Both children and adults can accidentally inhale objects that are in their mouths. Children are especially prone to this. Objects that pass into an airway can sometimes move into the stomach. Coins are the object most commonly swallowed by children (University of Chicago).

What Causes Foreign Objects in the Body?

In some cases, an object can become lodged in the body accidentally. For instance, a person can unintentionally swallow an object he or she was holding in the mouth, such as a toothpick or a nail.

In other cases, a foreign object may be inserted and become lodged in the rectum due to a desire for sexual stimulation. People with psychiatric disorders may also put foreign objects in their body due to psychotic behavior.

The natural curiosity of young children may cause them to put small objects in their noses or ears. Young children also often put things in their mouths. This can lead to objects becoming stuck in an airway.

What Are the Symptoms of a Foreign Object in the Body?

Symptoms of a foreign object in the body will depend on the location of the object.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Discomfort may range from mild to severe.
  • Nasal drainage: If objects are inserted into the nose, nasal drainage may occur.
  • Choking: If an object is stuck in the airway, it can cause choking and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.
  • Breathing problems: An object blocking an airway may cause difficulty breathing.

How Are Foreign Objects in the Body Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of a foreign object in the body is made through talking with the patient or a family member and getting a history to determine what object was inserted and where. A physical exam will also be performed. In some instances, the doctor may be able to see the object. An X-ray can also be used to determine where a foreign object is in the body.

How Are Foreign Objects in the Body Treated?

The treatment for a foreign body involves removing the object. The ease or difficulty of this process depends on where in the body the object is. If the object cannot be removed at home and medical attention is needed, treatment may include:

  • A suction machine can be used to pull the object out of the nose or ear.
  • An esophagoscopy can be used in cases where an object is lodged in the airway. This involves inserting a small scope in order to view and remove the object.
  • Retractors may also be used to remove an object.

Surgery is sometimes necessary if other methods of removal don’t work. Additional treatment may involve treating any damage the object has caused. 

What Is the Outlook For Foreign Objects in the Body?

The prognosis for a foreign object in the body depends on the location of the object. In many cases, the object can be successfully removed without complications.

How Are Foreign Objects in the Body Prevented?

Since young children are at the highest risk of putting foreign objects in their bodies, prevention involves keeping small objects out of reach.

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