What should you do if something gets stuck in your esophagus? (2023)

It is not uncommon to accidentally swallow a foreign object (i.e. something other than food) at some point. In some cases, a foreign object can easily pass through the body. However, if something gets stuck in the esophagus or contains hazardous materials (such as certain types of batteries), it can cause a dangerous blockage or rupture.

Learn what to do if you or someone else swallows a foreign object, including the symptoms to look out for and when to seek emergency medical attention.

What should you do if something gets stuck in your esophagus? (1)


The mouth is the first station of the bodyGastrointestinal (GI) tract., to which this also belongsesophagus, stomach, small and large intestine and rectum. When you swallow something — food, drink, or a foreign object (non-food) — it travels through your gastrointestinal tract, or intestines.

If a foreign object is swallowed, it can become trapped in the esophagus, a small, soft tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach. The esophagus has thin, very flexible walls that can easily catch and trap hard objects trying to pass through. The walls of the esophagus are so flexible that when empty, they collapse almost flat, like a fire hose without water.

If a foreign body passes through the esophagus, it has a good chance of passing through the entire gastrointestinal tract.


The only way to be sure someone you know has swallowed a foreign object is toI understandThey do. But even if you haven't seen them swallow something, there are certain signs and symptoms that should make you aware, especially if you suspect something has been swallowed that they shouldn't have.

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Signs include:

  • cough or choke
  • problems speaking
  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • difficulties swallowing
  • vomiting or drooling
  • stomach pain

esophagus and airways (windpipe) lie next to each other on the neck. Foreign objects that get stuck in the upper part of the esophagus can also enter the windpipe. If the object is large enough, it can actually push the trachea up into the esophagus, cutting off airflow to the lungs.

In some cases, foreign objects can severely clog the gastrointestinal tract or even stop airflow.

Anytime you suspect that something has been swallowed and it can be felt (by the person who swallowed) down the throat or deep in the chest, it's important to seek immediate medical attention.

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causes in children

Young children explore the world through their senses, including taste. One study estimates that 20% of children between the ages of one and three have swallowed a non-food item.Children under the age of five accounted for 75% of all reported cases of foreign object ingestion between 1995 and 2015.

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In 2016, US poison control centers received more than 65,000 calls about children ingesting inedible objects.The most common items children swallow are coins, toys, jewelry and batteries.

Button batteries, such as those used in watches or other electronic devices, can pose serious hazards if swallowed. This risk may vary depending on the battery type. For example, sodium hydroxide batteries can cause burns in the esophagus, while lithium batteries can generate electrical currents that can damage tissue.

Battery burns can cause perforations (holes) in the esophagus and also lead to scarring and long-term complications.

When it comes to button batteries, size matters. The worst results (94%) were achieved by batteries with a diameter of at least 20 mm.The best cure is prevention when it comes to button batteries, so take extra care to keep them away from children, especially babies. If you suspect a button battery has been swallowed, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Sharp objects, such as glass or metal, can puncture the thin walls of the esophagus and cause bleeding or infection in the esophagus.Mediastinum(the cavity in the middle of the chest between the lungs). Also, when sharp objects pass through the esophagus, they can damage other areas of the gastrointestinal tract.

Magnets are also problematic, especially if the magnet is large or if more than one is being swallowed. Not only can magnets cause a blockage, but they also pose a unique risk as they can attract each other (or other metal parts) and become stuck to the walls of the GI tract.

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causes in adults

Children aren't the only ones who can swallow non-food items. An object can be accidentally swallowed (e.g. when a carpenter holds nails between his lips or a seamstress does the same with a button). People with dysphagia, strictures, neurological impairments such as dementia or alcoholics can also consume inedible objects.

In adults, the most common foreign objects that are swallowed are bones (such as fish or chicken) and dentures.

diagnosis and treatment

If you or someone you know has swallowed a foreign object, the first step to seek medical attention is by calling your doctor or going to the emergency room. Emergency treatment may be needed, especially if a sharp object, magnet, or battery is swallowed.

Your doctor will conduct a medical exam that includes a physical exam and imaging tests such asX-rayorCT-Scans🇧🇷 This will help them confirm that an object has been swallowed, determine how far the object has traveled in the GI tract and if it is causing a blockage. These tests can also help your doctor better understand the size and shape of the object, which will help them decide next steps.

Most often, adults can be observed to see if the foreign body passes on its own (and 80% to 90% of the time, it will).However, in some cases, medical intervention is required.

Your doctor may also perform a procedure calledesophagoscopy, where they use aEndoscopeto locate the object in the esophagus and stomach. Endoscopy allows you to see the object and remove it if necessary.

In less than 1% of cases, surgery may be needed to remove a foreign body from the gastrointestinal tract.

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frequently asked questions

How long does it take for a swallowed foreign object to pass through the body?

How quickly a foreign body passes through the gastrointestinal tract depends on its size. Smaller and shorter objects move faster. While most resolve spontaneously within a week, some may take up to a month.

What to expect after swallowing a foreign object

If you swallow a non-food item, you may experience a variety of symptoms depending on the type and size of the object. You may cough or choke, or have trouble swallowing or speaking. You may also feel the object in your throat or even not feel it (if the object is small).

Some people may experience stomach pain or vomiting after swallowing nonfood items.

What should you do if you accidentally swallow a foreign object?

The first step is to contact your doctor. They give you guidance to help you decide what to do next. Do not force yourself to vomit as this can make the situation worse.

Depending on what was swallowed, your doctor may point out symptoms to look out for while you wait for the object to pass or recommend a visit to the doctor's office or emergency room.

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A word from Verywell

It can be scary to realize that you or your child has swallowed a foreign object, but try not to panic. In most cases, the object passes through the digestive system. However, if you or your child has trouble breathing or other noticeable signs, or if you swallow a small battery, seek emergency medical attention immediately.


How long can something be stuck in your esophagus? ›

If the object was stuck in your throat or esophagus, your doctor probably removed it. If you swallowed the object, your doctor may have suggested that you wait and see if the object comes out in your stool. Most swallowed objects will pass through your body without any problem and show up in your stool within 3 days.

When should I go to the ER for food stuck in my esophagus? ›

In some cases, it may resolve on its own. However, it can be an emergency if it's causing a problem with breathing or if something like a sharp bone has become stuck. It's important to seek care if there's a persistent feeling of something caught in the throat and/or there are other symptoms of a food impaction.

How do you know if something is stuck in your esophagus? ›

You may not have any symptoms when something is stuck in your esophagus. But when symptoms are present, they may include: Rapid, noisy, or high-pitched breathing. Increased drooling.

Can throwing up help dislodge food stuck in esophagus? ›

What Not to Do. The main risk of steakhouse syndrome is aspiration of the food into your lungs, since people often try to induce vomiting to clear the obstruction. "It's dangerous to induce vomiting because this can lead to perforation if enough pressure builds up in the lower esophagus," says Glatter.

Will food stuck in esophagus eventually go down? ›

Food that gets stuck in the throat usually passes on its own, given some time. Give your body a chance to do its thing.

How do doctors dislodge food stuck in esophagus? ›

A scope will be passed through the mouth and down the throat. Small tools will be passed down the tube to remove the food or push it down to the stomach. The doctor will look for possible reasons the food was blocked. It may help to prevent another event.

How do you clear an esophageal blockage? ›

If it is an acute blockage, such as food or a foreign object, emergency treatment using an endoscope or surgery will be required to remove the blockage. Usually a scan called a contrast scan show a narrowed area of the foodpipe.

Is esophageal blockage an emergency? ›

Esophageal obstruction typically improves spontaneously but may require emergency medicine care. Pediatric patients are the most common patient population affected.

Why does it feel like something is stuck in my esophagus? ›

The most common causes of globus pharyngeus are anxiety and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a form of acid reflux that causes the stomach's contents to travel back up the food pipe and sometimes into the throat. This can result in muscle spasms that trigger feelings of an object caught in the throat.

What can you do when something goes down the wrong pipe? ›

Don't panic. Stop what you're doing and lie on your belly with a cushion under your hips. This tilts your windpipe slightly downward, which can help expel the foreign material.

What does food impaction in esophagus feel like? ›

Impaction at the upper esophageal sphincter is generally easily localized by the patient. However, impaction at sites lower in the esophagus may cause symptoms such as diffuse chest pain or pressure, dysphagia, odynophagia, a sensation of choking, and neck or throat pain (9).

How long does it take esophagitis to heal after throwing up? ›

It might take 1 to 3 weeks to heal. Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety.

How is food removed from esophagus? ›

The recommended method is to perform an upper endoscopy, and the impacted food is either extracted orally or pushed down into the stomach. In cases where food is impacted in the upper part of esophagus, rigid endoscopes may be used in experienced hands.

What does a blockage in the esophagus feel like? ›

Feeling Like there is Food Stuck in Your Throat. Coughing or Choking When Swallowing. Unexplained Weight Loss. Vomiting or Regurgitating.

What does an esophageal blockage feel like? ›

The main symptom of an esophageal stricture is dysphagia, meaning difficulty in swallowing. This may manifest as a sensation of food sticking or feeling of delay in food passage in the throat, chest or upper abdomen.

What happens if food bolus gets stuck in esophagus? ›

Impaction of a soft food bolus in the oesophagus causes dysphagia and regurgitation. If the bolus does not pass spontaneously, then the patient is at risk of aspiration, dehydration, perforation, and death. Definitive management is with endoscopic intervention, recommended within 24 hours.

Can you see esophagus on CT scan? ›

Computed tomography (CT) scan for esophageal cancer uses X-ray images to present detailed images of the esophagus and surrounding tissues. It also helps to identify the spread of cancer to other distant organs, such as the liver.

Can esophagitis be life threatening? ›

Esophagitis alone is rarely a serious condition; however, some of the symptoms of esophagitis may be a sign of a more life-threatening condition such as a heart attack.

What causes food to get stuck in esophagus? ›

Esophageal Stricture: A narrowed esophagus (stricture) can trap large pieces of food. Tumors or scar tissue, often caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause narrowing. Esophageal Tumor: If an esophageal tumor is present, swallowing tends to become progressively more difficult.

Where does food go if it goes down the wrong pipe? ›

Food and water are supposed to go down the esophagus and into the stomach. However, when food 'goes down the wrong pipe,' it is entering the airway. This gives food and water the opportunity to get into the lungs. If food or water gets into the lungs, this can cause aspiration pneumonia.

Can the lungs clear aspirated food? ›

There's probably been a time when you swallowed some food or drink and it felt like it went down the wrong pipe. That's when a bit of food or liquid may have headed toward your lungs rather than your stomach. Most of the time when this happens, you'll cough, and the food or liquid will clear out of your airway.

Does drinking water help esophagitis? ›

This can help prevent acid reflux symptoms. According to a 2019 case study , frequent sips of water can help clear acid from the esophagus. Beverages such as coffee, soda, and acidic juices may increase the risk or severity of reflux symptoms.

What is the best drink for esophagitis? ›

Drinking water, low fat milk, and herbal teas may help manage it. Alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and sodas may worsen symptoms, however. Acid reflux, or heartburn, occurs when stomach acid flows up into a person's esophagus, or food pipe. It is common for people to experience acid reflux intermittently.

Does milk help esophagitis? ›

There's long been a myth that milk can soothe the throat and curb reflux symptoms. But most research suggests that milk, especially full-fat milk, can actually make symptoms worse.

Can something be stuck in your throat for months? ›

Dysphagia defined

A one-off case of getting a piece of food caught in your throat is normal and not a cause for concern. However, if you have difficulty swallowing or moving food and liquid from your mouth to your stomach regularly – for months even – it is likely dysphagia.

Can esophagitis feels like something stuck in throat? ›

Esophagitis is when the lining of your esophagus becomes irritated and inflamed. Causes of esophagitis can include GERD, vomiting, and medicines. You may be at risk for esophagitis if you are pregnant, smoke, or are obese. Symptoms can include sore throat and a feeling that something is stuck in your throat.

Why does it feel like something is stuck in my chest when I swallow? ›

Esophagitis. If the lining of your esophagus gets inflamed, you may struggle to swallow. You can also get pain behind your breastbone and feel like something's "stuck" in your chest. These symptoms will probably be worse when you eat.

Does esophagitis go away on its own? ›

Esophagitis can usually heal without intervention, but to aid in the recovery, eaters can adopt what's known as an esophageal, or soft food, diet. The goal of this kind of diet is to make eating less painful and to keep food from lingering in the esophagus and causing irritation.


1. 5 Ways to relieve something stuck in your esophagus.
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2. What to Do When a Fish Bone Gets Stuck in Your Throat
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3. Food Sticking In Your Throat?
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4. Swallowing Problems or Dysphagia: Top 4 Possible Causes Including Cricopharyngeal Dysfunction (CPD)
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5. What If Fish Bone Gets Stuck on Your Throat?
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6. Barium pill stuck in throat (valleculae) & then food tube (esophagus)
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