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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Foreign Bodies in the Ears, Nose and Throat

Tissue, safety pins, buttons, raisins, beans, peas, candy, popcorn kernels, erasers. Is this a shopping list for the grocery store? It might be, but for parents of some children this may be a familiar collection of items that seem to find their way into their youngster - namely the ears, nose and throat!

It brings much joy to parents when their kids start crawling and walking. In addition to the natural urge to explore everything in their environment, kids also have a tendency to put things in their mouth or nose or have items placed there accidently while playing with friends.

It is the rare child that comes forward to admit that he or she has inserted something into his/her nose or ear. More often, the child has symptoms that cause parents to become concerned that something is wrong. Be on the lookout for unexplained pain, difficulty in hearing, or a clunking sound in the ear - all signs that something could be stuck there. Smaller children may be fussy and try to scratch the ear to get the foreign body out. And any time a child has a foul-smelling discharge from only one nostril, and it is a parent's unfortunate duty to check for a foreign body in the nose. In addition, the presence of bleeding from one nostril should prompt investigation for a foreign body.

In most instances, any attempt by parents to remove the foreign body will only make a bad situation worse. Do not try to remove the object with tweezers or your finger. This can push a foreign body deeper into the nose or ear and possibly damage the eardrum or make removal by a physician more difficult. With foreign bodies in the nose, a parent's attempt to remove it almost always results in a bloody nose also making the ultimate removal by a physician more demanding. It is best to allow your child's pediatrician to assess the situation. Often, simple irrigation of the ear canal will dislodge the object in the doctor's office. If your pediatrician is unable to remove it, then referral to an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist should be consulted to remove the object. These physicians have proper instruments and microscopes and can provide for good control of the child to allow the foreign body to be removed with as little pain as possible. A foreign body in the nose or ear is not dangerous and only infrequent does removal have to be done on an emergency basis (unless there is an infection). Once the doctor removes the object from the ear or nose, there usually is no further problem.

Once the foreign body is out, tell the child in an age-appropriate way not to do it again..... but do not belabor the point. Parents who continue to mention the incident repeatedly to a child will give the event too much importance. The youngster comes to appreciate that repeating the act will bring him/her more parental attention.

Taking proper precautions and preventing these problems from occurring is the best solution. Start training the child not to put things into his/her mouth, ears or nose, as soon as possible. Make every attempt to keep small objects out of the reach of children. Keep the floor clean and remove small things like buttons, pins, beads etc., which we tend to throw about carelessly.

Once the foreign body has been removed, parents should notify their physician if the nose or ear begins to bleed, there continues to be drainage from the nose or ear (a second object may still be inside) or the youngster develops fever, earache, headache, pain in the cheeks or around the eyes, or a yellow-green nasal discharge appears or the child has trouble breathing or swallowing.

Parental vigilance is always the best way to avoid foreign body problems in their kids. Now, where is that quarter I left on the table?


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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