Aug 07, 2019 12:00 AM


What to Do if You Swallow a Fishbone

Nobody wants to swallow a fishbone, and yet, it does happen since small, sharp fishbones are easy to miss when preparing and eating fish. Because these bones look dangerous and can indeed cause injury, it’s natural for someone who accidentally swallows one to wonder if they should seek medical attention. Before you panic, know that swallowing a fishbone rarely causes problems and in the majority of cases does not require any special actions.

Don’t Panic

If you’ve swallowed a fishbone and feel fine, you don’t need to see a doctor. If the bone didn’t scratch your throat on the way down, you shouldn’t have any further problems. It will eventually be eliminated and removed from your body by the natural digestive process.

When Feeling Pain

If, however, you feel pain in your throat, it may mean you were scratched. This is still not a cause for concern. In the words of the University of Utah Health's Dr. Troy Madsen, “For a lot of people, when they swallow a bone, it scratches the back of their throat and then they're just hacking and trying to get something out. They feel like something's stuck there. It's not an uncommon thing for that to happen, where it just creates a sensation that something is stuck there, but there's nothing there. And in a couple of days, as that spot heals up, they feel fine and they feel better.”

When to See the Doctor

A normal scratch does not require a doctor visit. In fact, the only time you would need to go to the doctor is if you got scratched and that scratch got infected. In very rare cases, the bone scratches the uvula, which then becomes red and inflamed. If this is the case, a course of antibiotics should quickly resolve the problem.

The other scenario when a doctor visit may be necessary is described by Dr. Madsen: “If you're eating and you feel like something's stuck down lower in your esophagus and you feel fullness right at the base of your neck, right at the top of your sternum. If you are also unable to get food and water to stay down, it is possible a fishbone got lodged there and then food got backed up behind it.” If this is the case, it may be necessary to see a gastroenterologist to dislodge the bone and remove the obstruction.

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