Why kids stick foreign objects where they shouldn’t

Some toddlers and young children put small foreign objects into their ears, noses or eyes out of curiosity. They’re experimenting with the world around them and learning what happens when they try different things.

If you think your child has something stuck in his nose, eye, ear or other body opening, seek medical advice. Don’t try to remove the object yourself, because this could cause further injury. And if your child puts a button battery in any body opening, call the Poisons Information Centre immediately on 131 126.

Foreign objects to look out for

Children under four years are most at risk of inserting small foreign objects into their ears, noses or eyes, so keep the following out of reach of your child:

  • foods like popcorn, dried peas, watermelon seeds, nuts 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.

It’s best to use pins with a safety catch, and keep them closed when you’re not using them. Also avoid putting safety pins in your mouth, because your child might copy you.

Preventing foreign objects from being inserted

It’s important to try to identify potentially risky situations ahead of time. These tips can help:

  • Supervise toddlers and small children while they eat. Take extra care if they’re eating small items like chopped up vegies, peas, popcorn, small lollies and so on. Children might experiment with sticking these into ears or noses.
  • 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.
  • Check the floor and low tables for pieces of jewellery, small Lego blocks, pen lids, and other small objects.
  • Store button batteries out of sight and reach of children.

Signs your child has a foreign object stuck somewhere

Sometimes your child might tell you that there’s a foreign object stuck somewhere. Other times it can be hard to know. It’s good to look out for the signs below and to see your GP, even if you’re not sure.

Nose
Your child might:

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

Ear
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.

Eye
Although children rarely stick things in their eyes on purpose, they can unintentionally 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 is in her eye, or rub it a lot
  • have pain in the eye
  • have a weeping, red eye
  • have pain when she looks at a light
  • blink a lot.

If a foreign object or piece of food gets stuck in your child’s throat, your child is at risk of choking. Our illustrated guide to choking first aid explains what to do in this situation.