Why children 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 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. 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, eyes or mouths, 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
- small batteries, including loose button batteries or products that contain them
- 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 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 vegies, 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, and that 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.
- Store button batteries and products containing them 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.
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 not all stuck objects cause earache)
- 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 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 their eye, or rub the eye a lot
- have pain in the eye
- have a weeping, red eye
- have pain when looking 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 guides to choking first aid for babies and choking first aid for children and teens explain what to do in this situation.
Signs your child has swallowed a button battery
The signs of swallowing a button battery can look like the signs of many other illnesses. Your child might:
- gag, drool or have problems swallowing
- have chest or stomach pain
- start coughing or have noisy breathing
- vomit or refuse food
- have blood in their vomit, poo or spit, or have blood come from their nose or ears
- have a fever or feel generally unwell.
Button batteries can burn through the food pipe in as little as two hours, if swallowed. This burning can lead to serious injury, surgery or death. If you think your child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, call the Poisons Information Centre immediately on 131 126 for advice. You can also call 000 for an ambulance.