Accidentally swallowing a fishbone can be an uncomfortable and alarming experience. The feeling of a fishbone stuck in your throat can cause anxiety and worry. However, it is important to remain calm and take appropriate action. Let’s discuss what you should do, things you can try, things you shouldn’t do, when to see a doctor, and what the Red Cross recommends for choking incidents.
What to Do if a Fishbone Gets Stuck in Your Throat
If you’ve ever swallowed a fishbone or any small, pointy object that does not belong in your esophagus, you know how alarming it can be. First, there’s the panic of swallowing something small and sharp. Then there’s the pain and discomfort of it scratching your throat. Finally, there’s that constant bit of worry as to whether or not the bone is still there or if it’s just the scratch you’re still feeling. If you think you may have swallowed a fishbone, this is what you should do. (1)
- Don’t panic, but be cautious: While it may be uncomfortable, most fishbones are relatively small and usually pass through the digestive system naturally without causing any harm. Staying calm will help you think clearly and take the necessary steps.
- Try to cough it up: If you feel that the fishbone is lodged in your throat and you are uncomfortable, you can try to cough forcefully. Sometimes, the bone can dislodge itself through coughing or hacking.
Other Things You Can Try
If you have coughed and coughed to no avail and still think something might be there, there is something else you can try. As already mentioned, your digestive system can handle fishbones pretty easily, most of the time you will pass the bone without even knowing it. So, if coughing isn’t working and you want to try to help the bone go down better, try this:
Swallowing some liquids may help in making the bone-swallowing process smoother. You can try swallowing small sips of vinegar, olive oil, or soda, as these can moisten the throat and potentially dislodge the fishbone. Olive oil, in particular, can provide some extra lubrication to dislodge the bone and help it continue its journey through the digestive tract.
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Things You Shouldn’t Do
You will read plenty of articles that say that eating specific foods will help get that bone down. The theory is that these specific items will grab hold of the bone, dislodging it and taking it down with them on their own GI tract journey. This, however, is not good advice.
Items you will see recommended include bananas, bread with peanut butter, bread dipped in water, or eating a marshmallow. However, these items have a high chance of getting stuck themselves, particularly if you have something stuck in your throat. This can lead to a blocked airway that wasn’t blocked before and then lead to choking. These food methods have no proven benefits and can potentially exacerbate the situation.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, a fishbone will pass through the digestive system without any complications. However, it is essential to know when seeking medical attention is necessary. If you experience severe pain, persistent swallowing difficulties, or difficulty breathing, you should seek immediate medical help.
A 2017 study revealed that out of 330 people who went to the doctor believing they had a fishbone in their throat, 80 were found to have only experienced a scratch in their throat as the bone went down. This data emphasizes the importance of understanding the severity of the situation before rushing to the doctor. If you have any doubts or concerns about a fishbone stuck in your throat, it is better to err on the side of caution and consult a healthcare professional. (2)
Red Cross Recommendations for Choking
The Red Cross guides what to do in choking emergencies. If you or someone else is choking and cannot breathe or speak, the Heimlich maneuver is recommended. This maneuver involves abdominal thrusts that can help dislodge the foreign object blocking the airway. (3)
To perform the Heimlich maneuver:
- Stand behind the person choking and wrap your arms around their waist.
- Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side against the midsection of the person above their navel but below the ribcage.
- Grasp your fist with your other hand and give quick, upward thrusts until the object is dislodged or the person can cough forcefully.
Remember, this maneuver should only be performed on someone who is conscious and unable to breathe or speak. If the choking individual can still cough forcefully or speak, encourage them to continue coughing and provide support until the object is expelled or professional medical help arrives. This method also needs modification if the person choking is a baby, small child, or pregnant person.
The Bottom Line
If a fishbone gets stuck in your throat, it is crucial to stay calm and try to cough it up. Swallowing certain liquids like vinegar, olive oil, or soda may assist in dislodging the fishbone. It is advisable to avoid eating specific foods that have no proven benefits. If you experience severe pain or difficulty swallowing or breathing, seek medical attention. Lastly, knowing the proper techniques like the Heimlich maneuver recommended by organizations like the Red Cross for choking incidents can be life-saving.
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- “WHAT TO DO IF YOU SWALLOW A FISHBONE.” Health Care. August 7, 2019.
- “Management of fishbone impaction in throat – Our experiences in a tertiary care hospital of eastern India.” Science Direct. Santosh Kumar Swain, et al. March 2017.
- “Care for a Choking Adult.” Red Cross