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Foreign Body in the Nose

The dangers of your child putting objects in their nose or mouth

Children are naturally curious and often wonder how things work. Usually, they display this curiosity by asking questions, or by exploring the world around them.

One of the dangers that can occur as a result of this curiosity is that your child may place foreign objects into their mouth, nose, or ears. While often harmless, this can create a choking hazard and put your child in danger of serious injuries or infections.

A foreign body in the nose means that an object is present in the nose when it’s not naturally supposed to be there. Children under the age of five often have this issue. But it’s not uncommon for older children to place foreign objects in their nostrils.

Common items that may end up in your child’s nose

Common items that children put in their noses include:

  • small toys
  • pieces of eraser
  • tissue
  • clay (used for arts and crafts)
  • food
  • pebbles
  • dirt
  • paired disc magnets
  • button batteries

Button batteries, such as those found in a watch, are of particular concern. They can cause serious injury to the nasal passage in as little as four hours. Paired disc magnets that are sometimes used to attach earrings or a nose ring can also damage tissue. This would typically occur over a few weeks.

Children often put these objects into their noses out of curiosity, or because they’re mimicking other children. However, foreign objects can also go into the nose while your child is sleeping, or when they try to sniff or smell an object.

What are the signs of a foreign body in the nose?

You may suspect that your child has put something in their nose, but are unable to see it when you look up their nose. Foreign objects in the nose may cause other signs.

Nasal drainage

A foreign body in the nostril will cause nasal drainage. This drainage may be clear, gray, or bloody. Nasal drainage with a bad odor may be a sign of an infection.

Breathing difficulty

Your child may have difficulty breathing through the affected nostril. This occurs when the object clogs the nostril, making it difficult for air to move through the nasal passage.

Your child may make whistling noises when breathing through their nose. A stuck object could cause this noise.

Diagnosing a foreign body in the nose

Make an appointment with your child’s doctor if you suspect your child has something in their nose but you can’t see it. At the appointment, the doctor will ask your child to lay back while they look into your child’s nose with a hand-held lighted instrument.

Your child’s doctor may swab nasal discharge and have it tested for the presence of bacteria.

How to remove the object

Keep calm if you discover an object in your child’s nose. Your child may begin to panic if they see you panicking.

The only treatment for this condition is to remove the foreign object from the nostril. In some cases, blowing the nose gently may be all that’s necessary to treat this condition. Here are some tips for removing the object:

  • Try removing the object with tweezers. Only use tweezers on larger objects. Tweezers may push smaller objects farther up the nose.
  • Avoid sticking cotton swabs or your fingers into your child’s nose. This can also push the object farther into the nose.
  • Stop your child from sniffing. Sniffing could cause the object to move farther up their nose and pose a choking hazard. Encourage your child to breathe through their mouth until the object is removed.
  • Go to your nearest hospital emergency room or doctor’s office if you can’t remove the object with tweezers. They’ll have other instruments that can remove the object. These include instruments that will help them grasp or scoop out the object. They also have machines that can suction out the object.

To make your child more comfortable, the doctor may place a topical anesthetic (spray or drops) inside the nose to slightly numb the area. Prior to the removal procedure, the doctor may also apply a drug that helps to prevent a nosebleed.

Your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotics or nasal drops to treat or prevent an infection.

How do I prevent my child from putting foreign objects in their nose?

Even with careful supervision, it can be difficult to prevent your child from putting foreign objects in their nose, ears, or mouth. Sometimes children will misbehave for attention. For this reason, never yell at your child when you catch them putting things in their nose.

Gently explain to your child how noses function, and why it’s a bad idea to put things in their nose. Have this conversation every time you catch your child trying to put things in their nose.


Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Nov 20, 2017: Alana Biggers, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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