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Inhaled foreign bodies

Inhaling an object is a scary experience for parents and children. The commonest age for this to happen is in children between 1 and 5 years old, but it can happen in older children too.

Parents may notice that the child suddenly becomes unwell, with coughing, wheezing, noisy breathing, and sometimes going blue or vomiting. If you notice anything like this in you child, make sure to call 999.

It is also worth familiarising yourself with what you need to do if your child is choking. The NHS and St John ambulance websites contain information on what to do. You can be performing this first aid whilst waiting for the 999 ambulance to arrive. Hopefully you won't ever need to do this, but if something does happen to your child you will be glad to know what to do!

Not every child that has inhaled something has such dramatic symptoms. Sometimes it is much less obvious. Other times parents don't notice anything at all because the incident happened whilst the child was alone, and doctors only suspect a problem because of persistent chestiness. A variety of objects can be inhaled, with peanuts being particularly irritating to the breathing passages.

When investigating your child, doctors will usually listen to your child's chest, and do a chest X ray. If a foreign body is suspected, it will need to be removed. This is done with a procedure called laryngotracheobronchoscopy or microlaryngobronchoscopy, which is a procedure to examine the breathing passages. Sometimes doctors think that a foreign body could be present, but airway examination doesn't show anything; if that happens, then at least everyone can be reassured that nothing was inhaled. Rarely, removing of the object via the mouth is not possible, and doctors will then discuss alternative management with you. However, vast majority of the time it is possible to remove the inhaled object back out through the mouth. 

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