Conditions We Treat: Foreign Bodies in the Nose & Airway

Foreign bodies in the nose and airway are most common in children under the age of five and can lead to suffocation and death in a short amount of time. This is one of the leading causes of fatal childhood accidents.


How Do I Know if My Child Has a Foreign Body in Their Nose?

Nasal drainage is the most common symptom. Drainage occurs only in the blocked nostril and may be bloody or have a bad odor. Children usually place soft objects in their noses, including tissues, clay, pieces of toys, and erasers. Sometimes a foreign body enters a child’s nose when he or she is smelling the object.


How Is a Foreign Body in the Nose Treated?

The object must be removed by a physician, either with a suction machine or by inserting retrieval instruments into the nasal passage. After removal, the physician may prescribe nose drops, antibiotic ointments, or oral antibiotics to treat or prevent infection.

A diagram of an airway blockage in the trachea and tracheostomy tube


How Do I Know if My Child Has a Foreign Body in Their Airway?

FOREIGN BODIES IN THE AIRWAY ARE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. There are many places in the airway an object can become lodged. This will cause choking. Look for the following symptoms:

  • Gagging
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Stridor (a high-pitched sound usually heard during inhalation)
  • Grabbing or scratching the neck

If these initial symptoms are not present or quickly resolve, it doesn’t mean the foreign body has been removed or dislodged. It may still be obstructing the airway, so keep a close watch for additional symptoms:

  • Worsening cough
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Throat or chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Bluish lips
  • Loss of consciousness

Most choking incidents occur when a child places an object in his or her mouth out of curiosity and then inhales deeply, sucking the object into the trachea. This can also occur if a child ingests a large piece of food and does not have a full set of teeth to chew it. Children between the ages of seven months and four years are in the greatest danger of choking on small objects. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Toys with small parts
  • Seeds
  • Grapes
  • Hot dogs
  • Pebbles
  • Nuts
  • Buttons
  • Coins

You should always watch your child very closely to avoid a choking emergency.


How Are Foreign Bodies in the Airway Treated?

FOREIGN BODIES IN THE AIRWAY ARE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. If the object is completely blocking the airway, the child will be unable to breathe or talk and his or her lips will turn blue. If you can remove the object yourself, do so, but always call 911 to ensure emergency medical help is on the way. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remove the object. Children who are still talking and breathing but show other symptoms also need to be evaluated by a physician immediately.

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