My Child Has Swallowed a Fish Bone, What to Do?

What should I do if my child has swallowed a fish bone? Consider the following recommendations we'll share in this article.
My Child Has Swallowed a Fish Bone, What to Do?

Last update: 11 October, 2022

One of the most consumed meats is fish, but this food isn’t as harmless as it appears. Its fragile skeleton has brought thousands the discomfort of accidentally swallowing one of its parts; this is very annoying for an adult, and it’s much worse for a child. This situation is synonymous with concern for parents, so it’s common for them to ask what they should do if their child swallows a fish bone.

If your little one displays difficulty when swallowing, in addition to feeling a foreign body in the esophagus, it’s most likely that they’ve swallowed a fish bone. Although it’s something that can be solved, many times the situation is taken too lightly due to lack of knowledge. This is a serious mistake because if the foreign body isn’t removed, it can cause bleeding and require medical evaluation.

If the fish bone is small in size, you can resort to some home measures, such as those discussed below, to alleviate the discomfort and overcome the episode without complications. However, if the fish bone or bones are large, you should go immediately to the emergency room.

My child has swallowed a fish bone: What can I do?

If you’re certain that your child has swallowed a small fish bone, you must first find out the exact location where it’s stuck. Under no circumstances should you introduce an object to try to remove it or your fingers, as this could aggravate the problem and cause serious consequences.

A doctor looking at a child's throat.

The first reaction to any alteration in the respiratory tract is to cough; due to the pressure exerted, the fish bone that’s stuck in the throat may move. In the beginning, it’s normal for this reflex to occur; in fact, on certain occasions, it’s the only thing necessary to solve the problem.

What home remedies to use if my child has swallowed a fishbone

Here are some home remedies and tricks that can help you in a situation like this:

  • Salt water: This is a very common method, which consists of drinking plenty of water with a pinch of salt. This will cause most of the small bone to come out of the throat and go straight to the stomach.
  • Olive oil: In some countries, this procedure is used to get rid of throat discomfort. It consists of simply drinking a little olive oil to facilitate the sliding of the bone; this also produces relief in the small cuts that it may have caused thanks to its soft texture.
  • Sips of vinegar: By taking small gulps of this liquid, the muscles in the throat contract and this allows, in some cases, for the bone to become expelled. It’s not a method that children like very much, given the sour taste of vinegar.

Solid foods that can also help

  • Soft bread, ripe banana, or marshmallows: Take a piece of one of these foods and ask your child to eat it as usual. Swallowing it may help to loosen the bone. Their soft and spongy texture will facilitate the process of moving the bone from the throat to the stomach and will leave a pleasant taste, something your little one will be very grateful for.
  • Peanut butter or nuts: A small piece of bread should be spread with plenty of peanut butter; it should be chewed and swallowed while it’s still sticky; nuts can also be used.
  • Hard-boiled egg: By eating this food in large pieces, the bone will come loose and stop bothering your child immediately. If the painful sensation continues, the procedure can be repeated a second time.
Children eating baked fish.

“A simple trick is to drink a little olive oil to help the bone slide out; this also relieves small cuts”.

If after putting all these tips into practice you realize that the discomfort still continues, stay calm and go to the nearest medical assistance center so that the child can be seen by a specialist. If it’s a simple extraction, the doctor may ask the child to gargle with an antiseptic rinse to reduce swelling in the throat; when it’s more complicated, a small outpatient surgery is required.

As a preventive measure, we must be extremely cautious when serving fish to children and carefully remove the bones until we’re sure that there are none left. In any case, it’s best to look for presentations that are safer for children’s consumption, such as fillets that don’t contain the skeleton.

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  • Al-Shukry SM. (2003). A swallowed fishbone penetrating the oesophagus into the sternomastoid muscle.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174727/
  • Swain SK, et al. (2017). Management of fish bone impaction in throat – Our experiences in a tertiary care hospital of eastern India. DOI:
    10.1016/j.ejenta.2016.12.001

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.