Why children stick foreign objects where they shouldn’t
Some babies, toddlers and young children put small foreign objects into their ears, noses, eyes or mouths 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 their nose, eye, ear or other body opening, seek medical advice. Don’t try to remove the object yourself because this could cause further injury.
Foreign objects to look out for
Children under 4 years are most at risk of inserting small foreign objects into their ears, noses, eyes or mouths, so keep the following out of sight and 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
- small batteries, including button batteries or products that contain them
- toys with removable eyes or noses and toys with other small parts, like Lego
- needles, pins and safety pins
Preventing foreign objects from being inserted or swallowed
It’s important to try to identify 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 vegetables, peas, popcorn, small lollies and so on. Children might experiment with sticking these into ears or noses.
- Avoid play with small beads.
- Teach older siblings that a baby’s ears and nose are delicate – they’re not for poking things into.
- Check the floor and low tables for pieces of jewellery, small blocks like Lego, pen lids, and other small objects.
- 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.
Signs children have 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.
Your child might have:
- pain or itchiness around their nose
- a smelly discharge from one nostril
- bleeding from the nose
- bad breath.
Your child might have:
- an earache (but not all stuck objects cause earache)
- skin discolouration in or around the ear
- discharge from the ear
- reduced hearing.
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 often found in the conjuctiva, between the eyeball and the eyelid.
Your child might blink a lot or have:
- something in their eye or rub the eye a lot
- pain in the eye
- a weeping, red eye
- pain when looking at a light.
If a foreign object or piece of food gets stuck in your child’s throat, your child is at risk of choking. Our illustrated guides to choking first aid for babies and choking first aid for children and teens explain what to do in this situation. If your child is having difficulty breathing, call 000 for an ambulance.