Foreign object swallowed

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First aid: Foreign object swallowed

If you swallow a foreign object, it will usually pass through your digestive system uneventfully. But some objects can lodge in your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat and stomach. If an object is stuck in your esophagus, you may need to remove it, especially if it is:

  • A pointed object, which should be removed as quickly as possible to avoid further injury to the esophageal lining
  • A tiny watch- or calculator-type button battery, which can rapidly cause nearby tissue injury and should be removed from the esophagus without delay

If a swallowed object blocks the airway, the American Red Cross recommends the "five-and-five" approach to first aid:

  • First, deliver five back blows between the victim's shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • Next, perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver).
  • Alternate between five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

Call 911 or your local emergency number for help.

To perform abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver) on someone else:

  • Stand behind the person. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly.
  • Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person's navel.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform a total of five abdominal thrusts, if needed. If the blockage still isn't dislodged, repeat the five-and-five cycle.

You can't perform back blows on yourself. But you can perform abdominal thrusts.

To perform abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver) on yourself:

  • Place a fist slightly above your navel.
  • Grasp your fist with the other hand and bend over a hard surface — a countertop or chair will do.
  • Shove your fist inward and upward.
Last Updated: 2009-11-14
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