By Raising Children Network
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It’s not unusual for children to poke small objects into their own – or another child’s – ears or nose, especially between the ages of nine months and four years. Sometimes these things can get stuck and cause irritation and infections.

Some toddlers and young children put small things into their ears or noses, or swallow things that aren’t food, out of curiosity. They’re experimenting with the world around them and learning what happens when they try different things.

It’s important to try to identify potentially risky situations ahead of time. This includes minimising your child’s exposure to small objects that could be dangerous. Careful supervision is also vital, especially when your child’s young.

If you think your child has something stuck in his nose, eye, ear or any other body opening, seek medical advice. Don’t try to remove the object yourself, because this could cause further injury. 

Objects to avoid

Children under four are most at risk of inserting or swallowing small objects. Here are some things to keep out of reach to try to keep your child safe:

  • foods such as popcorn, dried peas, watermelon seeds and chocolate with nuts
  • marbles, buttons, beads and pen lids
  • polystyrene balls found in bean bags and stuffed toys − these can be inhaled and don’t show up on x-rays
  • coins
  • small batteries, which can leak acid and cause injury if swallowed
  • toys with removable eyes, noses or other small parts
  • needles, pins and safety pins. Use pins with a safety catch, and keep them closed when not in use. Also avoid placing safety pins in your mouth, because your child might copy you.

Preventing objects from being swallowed, inhaled or inserted

  • Supervise toddlers and small children while they eat − they like to experiment and play with food, which can lead to injuries. Encourage your child to sit quietly when eating and drinking.
  • Avoid giving your child popcorn or nuts (especially peanuts) until he’s at least five years old. A thin layer of peanut butter or hazelnut spread on bread is a good alternative.
  • Cut all food into small pieces, and remove sharp or small bones from fish, chicken and meat before giving them to your child. Preboned fillets can be a good option.
  • Try to wait until your child is four years old before letting her eat small lollies, even as a treat.
  • Avoid glitter, glue and small beadwork.
  • Teach older siblings that a baby’s ears and nose are delicate, and that they’re not for poking things into.
  • It’s best to sand or polish any rough, splintery timber your child might come into contact with – for example, on old furniture or veranda rails.
  • Check the floor and low tables for pieces of jewellery, dried peas and other small objects.
Items that are smaller than a D-sized battery pose a choking threat to children under the age of four, so it’s best to keep such small objects away from your child.

Signs your child has a small object stuck somewhere

Your child might:

  • complain of pain or itchiness
  • have a smelly discharge from one nostril
  • bleed from the nose
  • have bad breath.

Your child might:

  • complain of an earache (but some objects might not always lead to this)
  • have redness in or around the ear
  • have discharge from the ear
  • have reduced hearing.

Although children rarely stick things in their eyes on purpose, they can accidentally poke themselves or rub foreign substances into their eyes. Items that get trapped are most commonly found in the conjuctiva, between the eyeball and the eyelid.

Your child might:

  • complain that something’s in his eye, or rub it a lot
  • have pain in the eye
  • have a weeping eye
  • have pain when he looks at a light
  • blink excessively.
  • Last updated or reviewed 10-03-2011