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ER or Not: Food Stuck in Your Throat

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ER or Not: Food Stuck in Your Throat

Aug 03, 2018

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Is it bad enough to go to the emergency room? Or isn't it? You're listening to "ER or Not" on The Scope.

Can You Breath?

Interviewer: Should you go to the ER if you have food stuck in your throat? Today's edition of "ER or Not" is with Dr. Troy Madsen. Play along, think about it, if you get food stuck in your throat, should you go to the ER? I can think of one instance where you would. That's where if it's blocking your ability to breathe, then absolutely call 911, go to the ER. What about the situation where you can still breathe but you can just feel it there still? Does that merit a trip to the ER?

Dr. Madsen: You know, that's actually more common than you might think. And, like you said, first of all think airway. Any airway issues, trouble breathing, absolutely, get to the ER, call 911. But, all that aside, you know we often see, I would say in the ER I see one of these cases every month or so. Someone who is eating, it's generally steak, usually the large pieces of steak, usually men . . .

Interviewer: Are you being serious here?

Dr. Madsen: I am being completely serious.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, and usually men and usually kind of, maybe, middle-aged men are maybe watching a game or something. I don't know. I don't know the exact circumstances, but they're eating large pieces of steak and eating it too quickly.

Maybe they have some underlying issue with the esophagus, with the food tube that goes to the stomach, where maybe it was narrowed or something like that and makes them a higher risk for this. They'll be eating it and then it just gets stuck in the esophagus. And then they come in and they're usually holding like a bowl or some sort of basin or something, because they cannot swallow their saliva. Nothing will get past this food, so they're spitting it into this thing and it's very obvious what's wrong.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Madsen: They've got this food lodged in there and I'll ask them, "Okay, where is it?" and they can usually point right where it is. Most of the time I kind of find it's their upper throat, like you if you feel on your neck kind of where it hits the sternum there, the top part. They point right at that point, that's the common spot. Otherwise they might point down lower chest kind of towards the stomach. Those are the two points where we really see this food get stuck.

Try Drinking a Coke (No Really)

So, if this happens at your home, there is something you can try and it's something we can try in the ER as well. But it's not a bad idea just to give it a shot, and that is to try and drink a Coke. And you're not going to be able to swallow the Coke because it's not going to go past the food, but if you can get a little bit down your throat and let it sit there, some way this works.

And I've kind of wondered how exactly does it work, maybe just the carbonation that kind of relaxes things in the esophagus and maybe helps that to move down. I don't know if it's the acidity of the Coke. That it would be that rapidly acting, I have a hard time believing it, but it is a trick. It's in textbooks. You know, anecdotally, maybe I can say I've seen it work. In talking to other ER doctors, they say, "Oh yeah, I've seen it work now and then. I've tried it and it seemed to do the trick." My guess is that's probably going to work more for something think you can feel that's down lower, closer to the stomach, maybe that just has a little bit further to go. But I think you can give it a shot, but if that doesn't work, you're going to have to go to the ER.

Interviewer: All right. So, is that one of the first things you try in the ER, is the "Coke Trick"?

Dr. Madsen: I can't say I reliably try it. I have a couple of times in people where it's down low. You know the case, like I said, where someone comes in and they're pointing to their upper throat, I'm just like, It's not going to work, you know. But down lower, I've tried that. There's also an IV medication we can try in the ER, but typically those things go to where we're calling the GI doctor in. They're going down, pushing the food down all the way in the stomach or pulling it out so it's out of the way.

Interviewer: Gotcha. So try the Coke thing at home. If that works, hey great, be more careful next time. Smaller pieces like your mom told you.

Chew Your Food!

Dr. Madsen: Like your mom said, chew your food.

Interviewer: That's it. And if it doesn't work, that is something you need to go to the ER for.

Dr. Madsen: It is. Yeah, it's usually not going to pass on its own, especially if you've been feeling it there for an hour or so.

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updated: August 3, 2018
originally published: November 11, 2016