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Ask the Doctor: What to do about objects in your child’s nose, mouth or ears

Kids love putting objects in places they do not belong, such as their nose, mouth and ears. What should a parent do if this happens? Here’s a quick primer:

Objects up your child’s nose

This rarely causes significant problems immediately, but the child should be seen in the emergency department for removal as soon as possible. It is often very difficult, if not impossible, for parents to remove foreign bodies from the nose, but emergency centers have multiple creative ways to get objects out of the nose.

If left in the nose, an object can damage the nasal septum or eventually be aspirated into the lungs. If it’s in there for a long period, it will often produce a one-sided nasal drainage that is often foul smelling; unlike a cold or allergies where the drainage is typically from both sides. This warrants a trip to the emergency department or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for removal.

Objects that are swallowed

The urgency of this situation depends on three things:

  1. What was swallowed
  2. Where it ended up
  3. Symptoms the child is having

Metallic objects can be detected on X-ray, so a visit to the emergency department can determine the location of the object.  If the object is non-metal and your child has no symptoms, you can offer the child some liquids; if that works, then solids. If both are tolerated without any symptoms, parents can watch the child at home.

What about button batteries or small magnets?

Button batteries can be found in many small toys, watches and some musical greeting cards. These are easily swallowed and can cause significant problems, especially if lodged in the esophagus.

Small powerful magnets are both a choking hazard and can be extremely dangerous when swallowed in multiples. They can “find” each other and break through the walls of the intestine leading to a serious infection and possibly death. In both cases of button batteries or magnets, your child should be seen in the emergency department immediately as damage can begin occurring in just a few hours.

Objects in child’s ears

This is generally not an emergency, but objects in the ear canal need to come out. Parents should seek medical care from their pediatrician, emergency department or ENT as soon as convenient though.

Remember, always call 911 or seek immediate help if your child is having any difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing, and/or has a hoarse voice, is coughing or is unable to eat or drink.

For more relevant pediatric healthcare information, visit You also can download our free Pocket Doc app, which features a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.

About the Author: Dr. Perno is the vice president of medical affairs at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. He joined the hospital staff in 2003. Dr. Perno also maintains clinical time in the Emergency Department, where he started as an attending physician in 2003 and served as assistant medical director from 2005 through 2015. He has chaired the hospital’s Medicine Quality of Care Committee and in 2009, was named vice chairman of the Department of Pediatric Medicine. Dr. Perno also has been a key member of several system innovation and quality improvement efforts and served as chief of the medical staff in 2016. Dr. Perno earned his medical degree from St. George’s University in West Indies, Grenada. He completed a pediatric residency from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey, followed by a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine from Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Originally Published in October 2021 – *Presented by John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

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