Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

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What Is It?

Young children and, sometimes, older children and adults may swallow toys, coins, safety pins, buttons, bones, wood, glass, magnets, batteries or other foreign objects. These objects often pass all the way through the digestive tract in 24 to 48 hours and cause no harm.

But problems may arise when objects are stuck for a long time, are sharp, or contain corrosive materials. Complications can include tears in the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and stomach), movement of the object into the tissue of the esophagus, and infection. Small magnets can pose a special problem. If more than one is swallowed, they can stick together and erode through tissue.

Three areas of the esophagus are the most likely places for objects to lodge:

  • At the level of the collarbones (clavicles) the most common place

  • At the center of the chest

  • Just before the esophagus meets the stomach, near the bottom of the rib cage

Objects also may get stuck in any part of the esophagus that has been injured previously.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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