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What to do if your preschooler shoves something up his nose

Child sucking thumb - what to do if your preschooler shoves something up his noseIt was 10 p.m. on a weeknight when my son Simun called me into his room to tell me about the tiny ball he’d stuck up his nose. In fact, he’d put the yellow piece of plastic (the ammunition from a toy gun I’d long since confiscated) up his left nostril and fished it out several times already. But now, not only was it stuck, I couldn’t see or feel it either.

When several attempts to get it out myself proved fruitless, we settled in for a long night at the ER where even the physician couldn’t find it. A visit with an otolaryngologist days later assured us the offender was nowhere in Simun’s sinus cavity. He’d likely swallowed it and had passed it into the sewer system.

Apparently my son’s fondness for shoving foreign objects up his nostrils is quite common, especially among toddlers and preschoolers who are enamoured with their newly discovered bodies. My neighbour tells me her toddler put a piece of Indian corn up his nose, requiring an ER doctor to haul it out with forceps.

Toronto’s SickKids Hospital has an entire display of zany things physicians have extracted from the ears, throats and noses of patients – including safety pins, buttons, nails, rotting peanuts and even a player piece from a Monopoly game.

Dr. Neil Chadha, an otolaryngologist at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, says he often treats children who have put everything from crumpled pieces of paper and nuts to Lego pieces in their ears and noses. Some may not fess up about it, he says, which can lead to infection. “A food particle will become infected more quickly and create an odour, but even a plastic bead will create nasal discharge,” he says, adding that choking is another hazard, although extremely rare. He says potential signs of infection to watch for are discharge out of just one nostril, sudden nosebleeds and bad breath. For the ear, there could be redness and swelling, pain, discharge or even bleeding.

In any case, if nose or ear exploration is suspected, Dr. Chada advises getting your child to a family physician or the ER within 24 hours or sooner if the article is a small battery or other chemical-containing object that could burn the nasal passages. “We have the proper lighting and equipment on hand to do the job,” he says. “Otherwise, trying to get it out yourself without the right light could get the child upset and lodge the object up even further.”

Nothing like a “Mother’s Kiss”

  • “Mother’s Kiss” is a proven technique that dates back more than 45 years and is considered a safe and often effective way to push a foreign object from a child’s nasal cavity. Doctors say if they can convince a parent to do it, they often use this method in emergency departments because children don’t find it as scary or uncomfortable as using hooks or forceps.
  • With a doctor’s supervision, place your mouth over the child’s mouth, close the unaffected nostril with one finger and blow. The force of your breath will cause the child to instinctively push air through the affected nostril and hopefully force the object out.
  • “I’ve seen this work and it’s certainly less traumatic than having an instrument up the child’s nose, but it shouldn’t be done without a physician supervising,“ says Dr. Neil Chadha of B.C. Children’s Hospital.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2013.

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