What are foreign objects in the body?

In medical terms, a foreign object is something that is in the body but doesn’t 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.

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’re playing or copying another child. Children also commonly place objects into their noses. Objects that commonly become stuck in the ears or nose include:

  • crayon tips
  • small toys or toy parts
  • food
  • pencil erasers
  • buttons
  • insects
  • pebbles
  • seeds
  • small batteries

When a foreign object becomes trapped in an airway, it can cause a life-threatening medical situation. 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. If an object is trapped in an airway, get medical help immediately.

Objects can also pass into the stomach. Coins are the object most commonly swallowed by children.

If your child has swallowed a battery, seek immediate medical attention. This is an emergency situation.

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.

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

Object-swallowing disorders, like pica, can also cause foreign objects in the body. Pica is a behavioral disorder that causes a person to compulsively eat nonfood items that have no nutritional value. It’s usually a temporary disorder that’s most common in children and pregnant women. Pica can become dangerous if the person eats toxic substances, like metal or detergents.

In other cases, a foreign object may be inserted and become lodged in the rectum due to a desire for sexual stimulation.

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.

A doctor diagnoses a foreign object in the body by talking with the individual 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.

The treatment for an item in the body usually 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 the following:

  • A suction machine can pull the object out of the nose or ear.
  • A bronchoscope 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.
  • An endoscope can be used to remove foreign objects from the stomach or rectum.
  • Retractors may also be used to remove an object.
  • Magnets can sometimes be used to remove metal objects.

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

Sometimes, if the object is in the gastrointestinal tract and is a benign object such as a coin, it may be allowed to pass in the stool.

The outlook 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.

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