What happens when children swallow objects and how to act

Very young children feel the world through their mouths and love to put things in it. Sometimes the fingers themselves, sometimes the earth… At other times, small pieces.

When a child swallows a small object, such as a piece of toy, the parents are soon concerned. Will it hurt? Is the child in danger? Are you going out alone?

In these situations, it is important to get her to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Complications can occur according to the characteristics of the object and can include perforations or chemical burns caused by batteries”, says Mário Vieira, pediatrician and president of the gastroenterology department of the Sociedade Paranaense de Pediatria.

According to the doctor, the objects can be swallowed or sucked. In the first case, the procedure depends on the shape of the object, the size, and whether the piece has been stuck in the esophagus or not.

In case the object is aspirated, which means it goes to the lungs, the removal is done through surgery or respiratory endoscopy.

The path of the object in the organism

Fortunately, in many cases, the object can pass directly through the child’s digestive system and surgery is not necessary, which is especially common when it comes to small, round objects.

In some days it is possible that whatever the child has swallowed will appear in the diaper.

When we swallow something, this object, whether eaten or not, passes through the esophagus and into the stomach. From there, it proceeds to the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.

After crossing the entire small intestine, it passes into the large intestine and is finally eliminated with the stool by the rectum.

This is the path that anything we swallow does if there are no complications – like the object getting stuck somewhere in the path.

Food is usually digested and there is no such risk, but a plastic object, for example, remains plastic and maintains its shape in the intestine.

This means that even after passing through stomach acid, a piece with a plastic tip can still have the tip and therefore cause intestinal damage. Therefore, care is very important.

How long does it take to leave?

The object most swallowed by children are coins, and there are several studies on this. However, there is little research on other objects that are usually present in the routine of the little ones.

That is why Tessa Davis, Andrew Tagg and four other pediatricians decided, in an unusual way, to answer a question. The six doctors swallowed the heads of LEGO dolls (toys with small pieces to assemble) to find out how long it takes for them to come out on the other side.

The answer is, on average, just under 2 days. At least in the adult gut.

The research carried out by English pediatricians, entitled “ Everything is awesome: Don’t forget the LEGO ” parents who do not know what to do when the child swallows toy parts.

The researchers swallowed the pieces and searched the feces for a few days, until they found the object, analyzing, in the meantime, the properties of the feces.

5 of them took less than 72 hours to find the head. Only one didn’t find it – no one knows where it ended up, but he probably didn’t see it when he passed.

Keep in mind, however, that most objects that cannot be digested pose a risk. The pieces swallowed in the research, due to their round, smooth and small shape, were reasonably safe.

When they are not rounded, the dangers are greater as these objects can get stuck in the way, causing internal wounds or bleeding.

How Parents Should Act

In episodes in which the child swallows an object, refusal to eat and vomiting are signs to be observed. In many cases, however, parents are not even aware that the fact occurred.

“If there are symptoms such as hoarseness, cough , wheezing, you should seek medical attention quickly by taking the child to an emergency department,” says Dr. Mário Vieira.

In order to help the child, it is important that parents do not try to remove the object with their hands, as this can lodge it even more deeply in the esophagus.

If the object is not blocking the air, no attempt should be made to remove it.

Causing vomiting or giving the child food may cause the object to become trapped elsewhere and cause damage, in addition to preventing anesthesia for longer if surgery to remove it is necessary.

In general, staying calm is the most important. Then, it is essential to take the child to the hospital immediately – doctors will be able to deal with the situation.


Parents should remember to pay attention to the child constantly, avoid leaving him alone with small objects close by and not allowing him to play with parts that can be swallowed.

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