The accidental ingestion of fish bones is very common. Fish bones, particularly of the pin bone variety, are tiny and may be easily missed while preparing fish or when chewing. They have sharp edges and odd shapes that make them more likely than other food to get stuck in the throat.
When a fish bone gets stuck in your throat, it can be painful and frightening. Fortunately, this is so common that there are established tips and tricks for getting fish bones unstuck.
If you have a fish bone stuck in your throat, you’ll probably feel it. You may also experience any of the following symptoms:
- tingling or prickling sensation in the throat
- sharp pain in the throat
- tenderness in the throat or neck
- difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
- spitting up blood
Some fish have more intricate skeletal systems than others. This can make them more difficult to debone.
Generally, fish that are served whole are the riskiest. A few examples of fish difficult to debone entirely include:
Swallowing a fish bone is rarely an emergency, so you may want to try a few of these home remedies before heading into your doctor’s office.
It may sound strange, but a big gooey marshmallow might be just what you need to get that bone out of your throat.
Chew the marshmallow just enough to soften it, then swallow it in one big gulp. The sticky, sugary substance grabs onto the bone and carries it down into your stomach.
2. Olive oil
Olive oil is a natural lubricant. If you have a fish bone stuck in your throat, try swallowing 1 or 2 tablespoons of straight olive oil. It should coat the lining of your throat and the bone itself, making it easier for you to swallow it down or cough it up.
Most fish bones get stuck right at the back of your throat, around your tonsils. A few forceful coughs may be enough to shake it loose.
Some people find that bananas, like marshmallows, grab hold of fish bones and pull them down into your stomach.
Take a large bite of a banana and hold it in your mouth for at least one minute. This will give it a chance to soak up some saliva. Then swallow it in one big gulp.
5. Bread and water
Bread dipped in water is a classic trick for getting stuck food out of your throat.
Soak a piece of bread in water for about a minute, then take a large bite and swallow it whole. This method puts weight on the fish bone and pushes it downward.
For years, some health practitioners have been using Coca-Cola and other carbonated beverages to treat those with food stuck in their throats.
When soda enters your stomach, it releases gasses. These gasses help disintegrate the bone and build up pressure that can dislodge it.
Vinegar is very acidic. Drinking vinegar may help break down the fish bone, making it softer and easier to swallow.
Try diluting 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a cup of water, or drinking 1 tablespoon straight. Apple cider vinegar is a good option that doesn’t taste too bad (especially with honey).
8. Bread and peanut butter
Bread covered in peanut butter works to grab the fish bone and push it down into the stomach.
Take a large bite of bread and peanut butter and let it collect moisture in your mouth before swallowing it in one big gulp. Be sure to have plenty of water nearby.
9. Leave it alone
Often, when people go to the hospital believing there’s a fish bone stuck in their throat, there’s actually nothing there.
Fish bones are very sharp and can scratch the back of your throat when you swallow them. Sometimes you’re only feeling the scratch, and the bone itself has passed into your stomach.
Assuming your breathing isn’t affected, you may wish to give it some time. However, confirm your throat is clear before going to sleep. If you’re having trouble breathing, go to the emergency room immediately.
10. Get help from a friend
Because most fish bones get stuck in the tonsils, they aren’t too difficult to remove.
Grab a flashlight, a popsicle stick, and some tweezers. Ask your friend to hold down your tongue and see if they can locate the bone. If they can see it, they may be able to carefully remove it with tweezers.
Sometimes a fish bone just won’t come out on its own. In that case, see your doctor.
If the fish bone has gotten stuck in your esophagus or elsewhere in your digestive tract, it can pose real danger. It can cause a tear in your esophagus, an abscess, and on rare occasions, life-threatening complications.
Consult your doctor if your pain is severe or doesn’t go away after a few days. Get immediate medical help if you experience:
- chest pain
- excessive drooling
- an inability to eat or drink
If you’re unable to get a fish bone out yourself, your doctor can usually remove it easily. If they can’t see the fish bone at the back of your throat, they’ll most likely preform an endoscopy.
An endoscope is a long, flexible tube with a small camera on the end. Your doctor can use this tool to extract the fish bone or push it down into your stomach.
Certain people are at higher risk for getting fish bones or other food items stuck in their throat.
It’s most common in people with dentures who have trouble feeling bones when chewing. It’s also common among children, older adults, and people who eat fish while intoxicated.
You can decrease your risk by purchasing fillets rather than whole fish. Although small bones are sometimes found in fillets, they’re far fewer.
Always supervise children and those with cognitive issues when they’re eating a bony fish. Encourage high-risk individuals to take small bites and eat slowly. And be sure to follow this advice yourself.