What to do when your child has a foreign object in their nose
OK, so it won’t happen to us all, but there will be a fair few parents out there that sympathize with the situation I found myself in a while back. I mean, your nose has a hole the same size and shape as a raisin. Why wouldn’t you stick one up and see how far it goes? Gosh!
Despite originally training as a children’s nurse I still found this a hard one to deal with. The shrieks and yelps coming from my daughter also made it hard to actually understand what was going on, and when I did, the path to sorting it out was a bit of a minefield…so…
Let’s take a look at the surprisingly common incidents of kiddies inserting all manner of objects (foreign bodies) up their noses. Then let’s look at how to decipher what’s actually going on, how to deal with it, and when to seek urgent medical attention.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
Signs and symptoms of a foreign object in the nose
Let’s explore the signs and symptoms that can help you determine if your child has a foreign object lodged in their nasal passage. By recognizing these indicators, you can take appropriate action to ensure your child's safety and well-being.
Easy peasy sign number 1: Visible confirmation
They tell you what they’ve put up their nose and you can see it. Bingo. This direct admission provides clear evidence and enables swift action to address the situation.
Easy peasy sign number 2: Verbal clarity
They have the verbal ability (and are calm enough) to tell you exactly what happened. Their ability to communicate the incident in detail allows you to better understand the situation and respond accordingly.
When it’s not so easy:
Obvious pain or discomfort: Your child is in obvious pain or showing discomfort. Perhaps they’re holding their nose, or if you ask them to point to where it hurts they show you.
Increased nasal mucus: Lots of mucus (nasal drainage/snot) coming from one side of the nose.
Offensive discharge: Unpleasant odor and discharge from the nose (often when the object has been stuck for a while).
Nosebleeds: Whether minor or major, nosebleeds can be a telltale sign of a foreign object lodged in the nose.
How to tell if a child has a foreign object in their nose
Kids are curious creatures, and sometimes their curiosity leads them to do things that leave us scratching our heads. One such puzzling situation is when your child decides to stick something up their nose. As a parent, it's essential to be aware of the signs that may indicate this misadventure.
In some instances, you're lucky enough to have a little chatterbox that spills the beans on their secret nasal escapades. When your older child is calm and composed, gently ask them what they put up their nose. Their honesty and openness can save you the trouble of playing detective and allow you to address the situation swiftly.
Sometimes, extracting information from a silent toddler can feel like solving a mystery. In such cases, you need to rely on observable clues to determine if something is up their nose. Here are a few signs you can watch out for:
Discomfort/pain and squirming
How do you get a foreign body out of a child's nose?
You may be able to see it at the bottom of the nose and have easy access. If so, great!
1) Close off the unaffected side and get your child to blow air through their nose. This may force the object out - or at least to the base of the nose where you can take the next step.
2) If you can see the object and it's at the base of the nose, you may be able to encourage your child to sit still as you grab the object with a pair of tweezers. Only do this where it is easy to reach the object (and with a compliant child) as there is a danger you may push the object higher up the nose.
NOTE: Only use tweezers where you can easily see the object at the base of the nose and your child is completely cooperative. Do not insert them high up the nose.
3) If the object is higher up the nose, or proves difficult to remove then you’ll need help from your medical team to remove it. If it’s a button battery then it’s classified as a medical emergency and you should attend the emergency room immediately.
When to seek medical attention
Parenting is a rollercoaster ride filled with surprises, but there are certain situations that require immediate attention. One such scenario is when your child puts a button battery (also known as a coin cell battery) up their nose. This not only falls under the category of "Uh-oh" but also calls for urgent medical intervention.
If there is any possibility that the object could be a button battery  (coin cell battery) then this is considered a medical emergency. Sadly, this is common in under 5’s but extremely dangerous . Take your little one to the Emergency Room immediately. Button batteries can cause severe damage to the lining of the nose and even burns.
Don’t try too hard to remove it yourself, this may actually push it further up the nose! They’ll have seen this multiple times in the past so don’t panic and don’t feel any shame. Medical professionals will have far more appropriate equipment to both see and remove the object as well as arrange a follow-up if required. They are there to support you and your child in times of need!
If you are unable to get the object out easily then take your little one to the local ER, urgent care, or doctor's office.
How to prevent a foreign object from entering the nose
Let’s discuss some practical tips to ensure your child's toys are free from potential hazards. By taking a proactive approach and instilling important messages, we can protect our little ones and provide them with a secure playtime experience. Let's dive in!
Checking for loose or broken parts
Take a moment to examine your child's toys from time to time. Look for any loose or broken parts that could pose a choking or injury hazard.
New toy safety check
When your child receives a new toy, take a moment to inspect it for potential hazards. Some toys come with small parts that may be inappropriate for your child's age. These can be kept aside until your child is older.
Keep button batteries secure
Most children’s toys that have button batteries have lockable compartments. Ensure these are always screwed tight. Be mindful that greeting cards, remote controls, and other ‘cheaper’ toys may provide easy access to batteries. Also, take care to ensure your spare batteries are kept away from your child’s reach.
Importance of communication
As your child grows older, it's vital to have open and ongoing conversations about safety. Reinforce the message that objects should not be placed in the nose or ears. Emphasize the potential dangers and explain the reasons behind these rules. Additionally, teach your kiddo the importance of not sharing small toys or objects with younger siblings or friends who may be more prone to putting things in their mouths. Encouraging responsible behavior and setting clear boundaries can go a long way in preventing accidents!
Foreign object in nose FAQ
Q: Is a foreign body in the nose an emergency?
It depends! Some objects can be removed easily with little drama. For objects that are difficult to remove, higher up the nasal passage, or causing pain and distress then a trip to your local medical center will be necessary. If the object is a button battery then it’s a medical emergency and you should take your child to the ER immediately.
Q: How does an ENT remove a foreign object?
The hospital specialists may use an anesthetic spray to help make the object removal less uncomfortable and pain-free. Sometimes, for food particles in particular, they may already be dissolving and they may be able to be flushed through. They may ask a parent to blow gently through the child’s mouth while closing the unaffected nostril. This helps create positive pressure and can sometimes dislodge the object. It’s also known as “the mother’s kiss”. The hospital team may use specialist equipment such as tiny forceps to reach and grab the object. For this procedure to be successful your child will need to be calm and cooperative and keep their head still. The team may need to use suction or scope in more challenging circumstances such as the object being firmly lodged, an awkward shape, or lodged higher up the nose. Depending on the type of object, it will determine the urgency of the response. In rare cases where the object proves difficult to remove, the medical team may give your child sedation (to make them drowsy) so they can remove the object.
Q: What is the most common nasal foreign body in children?
The most common objects inserted into children’s noses are buttons, candy, small food like nuts, seeds, peas, parts of toys, and beads. Crayons and erasers are also common!
Q: How do I know if my toddler has something stuck in his nose?
You’ll probably notice something is up! They may be able to tell you what happened or if you ask them to point to the problem then that may be the first sign. If the object has been lodged for a while then you’re likely to notice a foul-smelling discharge coming from the affected nostril.
Q: What happens if a child puts something up their nose?
Firstly, remain calm. If you panic, then your child is more likely to panic too and make both the situation and the discomfort worse. Assess the situation. If you can see the object and it’s low down the nose then try to remove it using the tips above. If it’s higher up, you can’t see it at all or it’s a button battery then attend your medical center immediately which is much better placed to help with all the right equipment.
Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2023). Button Battery Safety. https://www.oecd.org/science/button-battery-safety-awareness-week.htm
Mark D. Chandler, Khudeja Ilyas, Kris R. Jatana, Gary A. Smith, Lara B. McKenzie, J. Morag MacKay; Pediatric Battery-Related Emergency Department Visits in the United States: 2010–2019. Pediatrics. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/150/3/e2022056709/189223/Pediatric-Battery-Related-Emergency-Department?autologincheck=redirected