Inhaled Foreign Bodies

The inhalation of foreign bodies into the respiratory tract can present sudden and serious effects. This type of accident is very common, particularly among small children. Peanuts are among the most common item inhaled, but almost any object is a potential troublemaker.

With plastic toys around in superabundance, pieces removed from these are commonly sucked into the respiratory tree. Seeds, parts of toys, nuts, dried peas and beans, beads, bits of bone, sweets, even whistles from toys, have been inhaled.

Also, inhaling objects such as teeth or debris following tooth extractions (particularly if an anesthetic has been administered) are fairly common accidents.

Inhaled Foreign Bodies Symptoms

Inhalation of a foreign body may be followed at once by gagging, choking and considerable distress.

As the obstruction slides into the larger air passages, this wanes. However, in young children especially, the inhalation of the foreign object may be entirely unnoticed by the parent. If a large foreign body is lodged in the trachea (the large, single airway) it must be removed promptly or death will occur from asphyxia.

With the progress of time, the foreign body may become impacted in the bronchial tree. In due course, symptoms following on from this must take place. Breathlessness, coughing, infected sputum, often blood-stained, may occur. A secondary pneumonia may take place. The affected airway may swell with inflammation, and part of the lung on the far side of the obstruction may collapse and become airless.

Often foreign bodies are difficult to diagnose if there is not an obvious history of one having been inhaled. Resort must be made to X-ray examinations, which may assist the doctor.

Inhaled Foreign Bodies Treatment

It is rare for the foreign body to be spontaneously coughed up. Back slapping. in an effort to dislodge it, and turning the patient upside down are perfectly useless, and should not be done. When the history is known, it is essential to get the patient to a major hospital where specialized equipment and skilled medical attention are available. The foreign particle must be removed, best by an instrument called the fiber optic bronchoscope, as early as possible to avoid complications.

If possible, antibiotics must be given if infection is present or there has been any delay. As soon as a diagnosis is made, even in unsuspected cases, removal in a similar manner is mandatory.