Don’t Stick Stuff Up Your Nose

Nose 315

Much to parents’ dismay, youngsters frequently stick foreign objects up their noses and into their ears. Follow these tips for prevention and damage control.

Picture this: During dinner on a quiet Wednesday night, your 2-year-old, Sarah, begins complaining that her nose hurts as she starts to cry. You lean over to take a look, hoping that she’s not coming down with a cold. And then you see it. Your blood runs cold as you realize that while Sarah watched her older sister make beaded bracelets that afternoon, she must have shoved at least one bead up her nose. Chaos ensues.

You frantically search for tweezers while your spouse throws pepper in Sarah’s face, trying to make her sneeze. You beg Sarah to sit still as you try to pull the bead out, but you end up only pushing it farther into her nasal passage. Finally, you throw everyone in the car and race to urgent care, where you watch in amazement as the doctor pulls not one, not two, but three pink beads out of your daughter’s nostril.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I am frequently the doctor in this story, and just as often, youngsters stuff unexpected objects into their ears, too.

The “why” is simple: Kids stick stuff where it doesn’t belong because they’re experiential learners and because they’re naturally curious about what it feels like, and about what will happen. Trust me, I’ve seen it all in noses and ears: rocks, candy, paper, peanuts, crayons, buttons, and beads … and the list just gets weirder from there!

How to Prevent Sticking and Stuffing From Happening

Talk about it.
If you’ve noticed that your child has a tendency to put things up his nose or in his ears, explain to him that this is a major no-no. If it’s age-appropriate, emphasize the danger of putting things where they don’t belong and discuss what the consequences might be. Often, kids are more receptive to this type of advice when you keep the conversation positive. And remember that it’s important to make this a family discussion. Teach older siblings that a baby’s ears and nose are delicate and that they’re not for poking things into.

Look at your house from your child’s point of view.
Once or twice a day, it’s a good idea to check the floor, low tables, and under pieces of furniture for jewelry, toys, keys, and other small objects that may have accumulated. The more items that are out of place, the greater the risk to your child.

Stoop down (or even get down on your hands and knees!) and take a fresh look at your home from your child’s vantage point. Keep your eyes peeled for smaller objects that curious young hands (and noses and ears) might find interesting. If the temptation isn’t there, your child can’t stuff it where it doesn’t belong!

Store small objects out of reach.
Once a child becomes mobile, it’s smart for parents and grandparents to thoroughly childproof their homes. Childproof latching mechanisms and locked containers are more than worth their price in terms of the stress they can save you.

Be sure to err on the side of caution. After the fact, so many parents say, “I had no idea my child could reach that high, or pull out that drawer, or climb up there.” Specifically, keep the following items in a high cabinet since they’re common up-the-nose or in-the-ear culprits: popcorn, peas, nuts, marbles, buttons, beads, batteries, magnets, toys with removable parts, safety pins, and coins. Oh, and one more piece of advice: Don’t forget about your trash can. Preschoolers don’t always share our aversion to digging through garbage!

Keep your eye on them.
Our hectic, on-the-go, multi-tasking lives make it impossible to closely supervise our children every second of every day. A watchful eye is still one of the best defenses against sticking and stuffing. In particular, watch small children while they eat, since they naturally like to experiment and play with food. Another time to be especially vigilant is when your children are playing outdoors, since it’s impossible to childproof Mother Nature. Your watchful eye, coupled with an age-appropriate warning, can keep seeds, plant material, pebbles, sand, and other small outdoor objects from finding their way into ears or noses.

What to do if Something is Stuck or Stuffed

Know the signs.
When a foreign object finds its way into a nostril or ear, you can’t always count on your child to tell you. If your child has stuffed something up his nose, he might complain of pain, his nose might bleed, or he might have bad breath. If he has stuck something in his ear, he might complain of ear pain, have smelly or bloody drainage, redness, or reduced hearing.

Don’t panic.
The realization that There’s a piece of kibble in my daughter’s nose! or She has a dime in her ear! can make your blood run cold. Panicking will only make a bad situation worse. Take a deep breath and evaluate the situation. Ask your child what happened and if she’s in pain. Then, take a look and decide how best to proceed.

If possible, remove the object.
If you’re fortunate, your child’s former “toy” will be fairly easy to dislodge. In other words, you don’t have to make a beeline for the doctor’s office the minute you notice something in a nostril or ear that shouldn’t be there.

If you can see the foreign body in the ear or nose and it appears easy to remove, you can try to carefully do so using tweezers. Tilt the head downward to remove a nasal foreign body, or to the left or right depending on which ear contains the foreign body, so that gravity helps the object fall out. Never poke at the ear or try to remove the object by force, though. You might inadvertently push the foreign body further back, which could make it fall into the windpipe and cause breathing problems, or injure the inner ear.

Call the doctor.
If you’re unsure about your ability to unclog your child’s nostril or ear yourself, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and let a medical professional do the honors.

If the object is difficult to remove or cannot be clearly seen, or if your child is in pain, call your healthcare provider first. When you explain the situation, they’ll be able to tell you if you should come in or go straight to the ER. In some cases, the doctor or nurse on call may even be able to talk you through an at-home extraction.

Dr. Jerald Altman is the coauthor of Don’t Stick Sticks Up Your Nose! Don’t Stuff Stuff In Your Ears! He is an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon (ENT doctor), and is married with three children.