Foreign objects

"Foreign" means "originating elsewhere" or "outside the body." Foreign bodiesusually get stuck in the eyes, ears, nose, airways, and rectum of children and adults. Young children may intentionally put shiny objects into their mouths and stick things in their ears and up their noses. Adults may accidentallyswallow a non-food object or inhale a foreign body that gets stuck in the throat. Airborne particles can get stuck in the eyes of anyone. Foreign bodiescan be in hollow organs (like swallowed batteries) or in tissues (like bullets). They can be inert or irritating. If they irritate they will cause inflammation and scarring. They can bring infection with them or acquire it and protect it from the body's immune defenses. They can block passageways either bytheir size or by the scarring they cause. Some can be toxic.

Dust, dirt, sand, or other airborne material can lodge in the eyes, causing minor irritation and redness. More serious damage can be caused by hard or sharp objects that become embedded in the cornea or inner eyelid. Children willsometimes put things into their noses, ears, and other openings and, on occasion, insects may also fly into the ears and nose. At a certain age children will eat anything. Some items can get stuck and cause trouble. Batteries are corrosive and must be removed immediately. The most commonly inhaled item is probably a peanut. Inhaled items always cause symptoms and may be hard to detect. Adults commonly swallow dental devices, and adults with mental illness or subversive motives may swallow inappropriate objects. Sometimes a foreign object will get stuck between the rectum and the anal canal, or is self-introduced to enhance sexual stimulation and then get stuck.

The symptoms are as diverse as the objects and their locations. The most common symptom is infection. Blockage of passageways--breathing, digestive or excretory--is another result. Pain is common. Treatment varies depending on where the foreign object is. In the eyes, small particles like sand may be removable without medical help, but if the object is not visible or cannot be retrieved, emergency treatment is necessary. Eye trauma can lead to vision loss and should never be ignored. In a well-lighted area, use clean hands and materials to touch the eyes. If the particle is small, it can be dislodged by blinking or pulling the upper lid over the lower lid and flushing out the speck, or by picking it out with a clean cloth. Rinse the eye with clean, lukewarm water. If the foreign object cannot be removed at home, cover the eye lightly with sterile gauze. A physician will use surgical tweezers to remove it and may prescribe an antibiotic sterile ointment and a patch. If the foreign body is stuck in the deeper layers of the eye, an ophthalmic surgeon will be consulted. Many methods have been devised for removing foreign objects from the nose and ears. A bead in a nostril, for example, can be popped out by blowing into the mouth while holding the other nostril closed. Skilled practitioners have removed peas from the ears by tiny improvised corkscrews; marbles by q-tips with super glue. Tweezers often work well, too. Insects can be floated outof the ear by pouring warm (not hot) oil into the ear canal. Items that are stuck deep in the ear canal require emergency treatment. Mechanical obstruction of the airways, common when food gets stuck in the throat, can be treated with the Heimlich maneuver. If the object is lodged lower in the airway, a bronchoscope (an instrument to view the airway and remove obstructions) can be inserted. When the object is blocking the entrance to the stomach, a fiberoptic endoscope (an instrument to views the interior of a body cavity) maybe used. After giving the patient a sedative and anesthetizing the throat, the physician either pulls the foreign object out or pushes it into the stomach. Objects in the digestive tract that aren't irritating, sharp, or large maybe followed as they continue on through. Sterile objects that are causing nosymptoms may be left in place. Surgical removal of the offending object is necessary if it is causing symptoms. A rectal retractor can remove objects that a physician can feel during physical examination. Surgery may be required for objects deeply stuck within the recturm.

Using common sense and following safety precautions are the best ways to prevent foreign objects from entering the body. For instance, parents and grandparents should toddler-proof their homes, storing batteries in a locked cabinetand properly disposing of used batteries, so curious preschoolers can't fishthem out of a wastebasket. To minimize the chance of youngsters inhaling food, parents should not allow children to eat while walking or playing. Adultsshould chew food thoroughly and not talk while chewing. Many eye injuries canbe prevented by wearing safety glasses while using tools.

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