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Object Stuck in Your Child’s Ear, Nose or Throat? Now What?

Expert Chats

Kids sometimes put foreign objects up their noses and in their ears and mouths. Pediatric ENT specialist Dr. Jennifer Setlur has some advice to keep your little ones safe (and to keep you calm) when this happens.

To all the moms and dads out there — How many times have you said, “Don’t put that in your mouth!”?

During Kids Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Health Month, the American Academy of Otolaryngology is raising awareness of button battery ingestion, which can cause severe damage. But these batteries aren’t the only risk to pediatric ENT health out there. We sat down with Jennifer Setlur, M.D., pediatric ENT specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear, Concord, to learn more about keeping children safe from objects in and out of their homes.

Here are her answers to our questions on this topic…

1) What are some common objects that make their way into kids’ ears, nose and throat?

The items we see most frequently lodged in our pediatric patients’ ears, noses and throats include:

  • Button batteries (tiny discs used to power remote controls, games, toys, etc.)
  • Wire bristle brushes (for scrubbing grills)
  • Coins
  • Small beads
  • Peas, popcorn kernels or other small pieces of food
  • Pencil erasers

Portrait Of Happy Boy Playing With Toys In Playroom

2) If it’s not immediately obvious, what signs should you look for that an object might be stuck somewhere?

For an object stuck in your child’s nose, look out for nasal congestion, snoring or foul-smelling drainage coming from the nose.

For something trapped in the ear, watch for complaints of ear pain or not being able to hear well.

Swallowed items that end up stuck in the throat are an extreme emergency. Visit the nearest emergency room for an x-ray if you notice your child 1) having problems feeding or drooling — or voice changes, or 2) having an unusual cough unrelated to a cough or cold (that sounds somewhat dry and happens sporadically).

3) What should you do once you discover that an object has been lodged into a kids’ ear, nose or throat?

I’d like to start off by sharing what we don’t recommend, and that’s trying any home remedy.

These attempts can lead to swelling, bleeding and, in some cases, result in fear. This then limits what we can do in the doctor’s office.

The best thing you can do is to bring your child to his or her nearest medical provider as soon as possible. So, if that’s a pediatrician, that’s a great place to start to get a sense of what to do and where to go next. By going to the doctor first, the chances of a successful removal are much higher.

4) What are some ways you can prevent kids from putting a foreign object in their ears, nose or mouth? 

Kids are naturally curious and explore parts of their body with their fingers or other objects. Be aware of what the dangers are in and around your home. If you see your child playing with an object that resulted in any kind of coughing or choking event afterwards, don’t assume it was coughed up, or that it was swallowed and will pass. Visit the nearest emergency room for evaluation, as there may be an object that went into the windpipe or esophagus.

5) Why should you be concerned about your child ingesting button batteries?

One of the items receiving a lot of attention lately is button batteries. The reason they’re of concern is that the contents can leak into the esophagus and potentially cause damage to the wall or lining. This can lead to scarring and may require extensive treatment.

If addressed quickly, long-term complications, such as swallowing issues, feeding dysfunction or breathing problems, can be avoided.

Thankfully, this is beginning to become less of an issue, because more people are recognizing the dangers. Items that have button batteries as source of power are becoming fewer and fewer, as are the consequences of them, because emergency department providers and radiologists know what signs to look for.

We hope you’ll keep this advice in mind the next time your little one gets something stuck in an opening in the head, face or neck region.

Adorable cute beautiful little baby girl playing with educational wooden toys at home or nursery. Toddler with colorful train. Happy healthy child having fun with different toys. Kid learning skills

About Our Expert

Dr. Setlur is fellowship-trained in pediatric otolaryngology. She understands that traveling into Boston can be challenging for families between work, school and other responsibilities, which is why she offers care in the community. She’s always appreciated the fact that kids are resilient, and enjoys being able to treat them as they grow and change over time. To make an appointment with Dr. Setlur, request one online or call 978-369-8780.