April 10, 2024

What to Do if You Have a Foreign Object in Your Body

Close up of a finger with a splinter

What to Do if You Have a Foreign Object in Your Body

In healthcare, the term “foreign object” refers to something in the body that doesn’t belong there. So, for example, a swallowed non-food object falls under that definition, but an implanted medical device (placed there intentionally) does not.

Foreign objects in the body can pose significant health risks. Whether they enter the body through swallowing, in wounds, as splinters, or some other way, it’s crucial to remove them (or have them removed by a medical professional) as soon as possible.

This article explains what to do if you get a foreign object in your body, including practices for foreign object removal at home and when to seek medical attention.

Identifying the Types of Foreign Objects

Virtually any small object can enter the body in some way. Some of the most common foreign objects found in the human body include:

  • Wood, metal, or plastic splinters
  • Glass fragments
  • Dirt and gravel
  • Plant thorns or spines
  • Sharp objects like fish hooks and needles

Children commonly ingest foreign objects by swallowing or inserting them into their noses or ears. This includes items like:

  • Coins
  • Pebbles
  • Small batteries
  • Insects
  • Small toys or toy components
  • Buttons
  • Portions of crayons or chalk

How Do You Get Rid of a Foreign Body Obstruction?

Some foreign objects in the body require medical attention. Getting advice and assistance from a medical professional is especially important if a child swallows an item or inserts it into their nose or ear.

However, you can remove items at home in many instances. For example, if you have a foreign object in your skin that’s close to the surface, you may be able to remove it by washing your hands and cleaning the area, then gently pulling on the item with tweezers.

If tweezers are ineffective, you can sterilize a needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol and gently breaking the skin over the object so you can remove it. After removing the object, you should rewash the area, apply antibiotic ointment, and bandage the wound if appropriate.

If an item is small and just under the skin, you may notice the body “pushing out” foreign objects. If you don’t have pain or other symptoms, you can let your body finish the job.

Some items may be difficult to remove, in which case you should visit your doctor, an urgent care facility, or an emergency room as needed.

When to Seek Medical Help

You should not attempt to remove items and should instead seek medical help if:

  • A foreign object is deeply embedded in skin or muscle.
  • An object is hard to see, such as glass.
  • The item is in or near an eye.
  • The object or wound it created is dirty, and the person hasn’t had a tetanus vaccination in more than five years.
  • A sharp object has been swallowed or inserted into an orifice.
  • The person has a fever.

If a foreign object is causing choking or breathing difficulties, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for immediate medical assistance.

Medical Treatment Options

Healthcare professionals know how to get foreign objects out of the skin, stomach, and other places they may be lodged. They also have specialized tools and instruments.

  • Retractors hold wounds open and improve access to foreign objects in the skin or muscle.
  • Surgical instruments are used if surgery is required.
  • Suction devices can pull foreign objects out of the nose or ear.
  • Bronchoscopes enable the removal of items from the airways.
  • Endoscopes are used for removing objects from the stomach or rectum.
  • Magnets can be useful in removing foreign metal objects from the body.

Prevention Tips

You can reduce the risk of experiencing foreign objects in the body by doing the following:

  • Keep small objects away from young children.
  • Teach older children about the dangers of ingesting or inserting objects into the body.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing (gloves, eye protection, mask, proper footwear, etc.) when working with materials that can splinter.

It’s also helpful simply to pause and consider the risks before taking actions that might cause an injury.

Learn More About Having a Foreign Object in Your Body

Many types of foreign objects can enter the body unintentionally or intentionally. If you have symptoms of a foreign object in your body, such as pain or fever, you should remove the item or have it removed promptly. If you’re concerned that the item is causing significant harm, you should visit an urgent care center or emergency room or call 911.

If a foreign object in the skin doesn’t pose an immediate risk to your health, you can make an appointment with your doctor to remove it.

Learn More.