If someone has swallowed a fishbone, it is usually not a big problem. In most cases, the bone passes through the esophagus without complications into the stomach and is dissolved there. In very rare cases, however, it can lodge in the esophagus and cause health problems.
What does a swallowed fishbone mean?
When eating, it sometimes happens that food particles get into the windpipe if the lid of the larynx does not close properly when swallowing. An urge to cough develops, which is supposed to remove the foreign body from the windpipe. A completely different situation arises when someone swallows a fishbone. Fish bones are part of the skeleton of bony fish.
According to SCIENCEDICT.COM, they are needle-like connective tissue ossifications that have no connection to the fish’s spine. They are often found in the meal of fish meals and can be swallowed unnoticed. However, there are rarely any cases where fish bones get into the windpipe. Usually they are transported unnoticed through the esophagus with the chyme into the stomach.
However, herringbones have tips that they can use to dig into the lining of the throat or esophagus. But that only happens in rare cases. Even then it remains largely undramatic, as the bones dissolve after a certain time through digestive processes. Only in very rare cases does an emergency arise, which can also be life-threatening.
At times, if the fish bones are not completely removed before eating fish meals, they can be swallowed. Herringbones are regularly swallowed, especially with larger bites that are not chewed long enough. This usually goes unnoticed because the bone within the chyme is quickly transported through the esophagus.
However, if it comes into contact with the mucous membrane in the throat or esophagus, it may well become buried there. The bone then often becomes stuck and can no longer be transported. Then there are often mild discomforts with an uncomfortable feeling in the throat, which is associated with constant gagging.
The bone often loosens again within a few hours or is even completely dissolved by digestive processes in the mucous membrane. But if it gets stuck for a long time, the body tries to remove the foreign body at this point by stimulating the immune system.
Inflammatory reactions develop, which damage or even destroy the affected tissue if the bones continue to get stuck. In extreme cases, scars and adhesions form between different organs, which can also enable the bone to migrate in the body and create life-threatening emergency situations.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
In most cases, there are no symptoms when swallowing fishbones, even if they dig into the mucous membrane of the esophagus. Depending on where the bone becomes lodged, it can also lead to unpleasant symptoms such as pain, an unpleasant stinging sensation in the throat with constant gagging or even breathing difficulties.
Shortness of breath occurs especially when it becomes lodged in the larynx. There will be swelling in this area, which will cause breathing problems. Even if the bone has already loosened, pain in the esophagus can still occur for a few days while eating, until the local wound has healed.
In some very rare cases, however, complications arise when the fishbone does not loosen at all or even migrates in the body. The esophagus, stomach or intestines can be pierced. In rare cases, blood spit, tar stools and shortness of breath occur. Pain when swallowing and a general sore throat will occur anyway.
As the inflammation progresses, a fever may also develop. In one individual case, abscesses were even found in the liver, which could be traced back to a migrating fishbone. In this case, the fish bone reached the duodenum, settled there and eventually led to adhesions of parts of the peritoneum with the liver and gall bladder.
If the symptoms mentioned above occur after a fish meal, the suspected diagnosis can very quickly be made that it is a swallowed fishbone. The exact localization of the bones can be done by laryngoscopy, x-rays and CT examinations.
A swallowed fishbone only leads to complications and other problems in very few cases. Especially in the case of small fish bones, these are simply transported into the stomach and are dissolved there by the stomach acid. After that, there are no further complaints or complications. In rare cases or with large fishbones, it can get stuck in the esophagus and cause problems.
In most cases, the patient experiences a sharp pain in the esophagus or throat, which also leads to breathing difficulties or even shortness of breath. The attachment of the fishbone in the larynx is life-threatening, as it can suffocate the person concerned. A doctor should be consulted if the patient cannot swallow the fishbone alone or remove it from the oral cavity.
Usually, pain in the larynx and neck continues for a few days after the incident. The fishbone can also pierce the stomach wall, causing bleeding. This can cause inflammation and fever. However, these incidents are very rare. Treatment usually does not take place.
The doctor can remove the fish bones with tweezers so that there are no further symptoms. If the fishbone cannot be reached directly, surgery may be necessary.
When should you go to the doctor?
If someone swallows a fine fishbone, it is not a reason to consult a doctor. In most cases, self-help measures like eating a piece of bread or a potato will help. But a larger fishbone that stands across the neck can lead to unpleasant complaints. As a rule, it comes off after eating pieces of potato or bread. It is then digested.
A fishbone that is swallowed and stuck in the esophagus can cause choking or coughing, pain and inflammation. In this case, a doctor should be considered. Symptoms of inflammation are a natural defense reaction of the organism. This recognizes the fishbone as a foreign body. He tries to remove it. If this does not succeed, the stuck fishbone can cause open wounds. This could get into the organism.
Sometimes a stuck fishbone causes scarring or adhesions in the surrounding tissue. In addition, swelling in the esophagus can occur if the course is unfavorable. If the bone is stuck in the windpipe or in the larynx, it can cause shortness of breath. Only in very rare cases can the swallowed fishbone cause complications so severe that it causes injuries to organs when wandering around the body.
Migrating herringbones can lead to tarry stools, shortness of breath or abscesses on organs. There is a danger to life if the swallowed fishbone is stuck in the larynx.
Treatment & Therapy
As a rule, no special measures need to be taken if a fishbone is swallowed. It usually dissolves on its own and gets into the stomach, where it is then completely digested. Furthermore, the bone can also dissolve through digestive processes in the mucous membrane of the esophagus. Sometimes it is possible to solve them with a little bread and water.
If the fishbone is stuck in the upper part of the throat, the affected person could remove it himself with tweezers. A doctor should only be consulted if it is stuck in deeper regions of the esophagus and no longer loosens on its own. The doctor will also first try to remove easily accessible, stuck herringbones with tweezers. In rare cases, however, surgery is also necessary.
Outlook & forecast
If someone swallows a small fishbone, the prognosis is usually good. Small bones are transported with the porridge or coughed up. They rarely get stuck in the esophagus. If bones are visible, someone among those present can try to remove the foreign body with tweezers.
Sometimes the swallowed bone is stuck deeper in the throat or esophagus. To dissolve this, small sips of undiluted lemon juice can be taken. The citric acid dissolves the fine fishbone tip. After that, it can be transported more easily with a piece of bread or a boiled potato.
A visit to the ENT doctor is recommended if the urge to cough does not cause bones to be ejected and all other attempts to remove bones also fail. Swallowed fish bones cannot be made visible by X-ray machines. In order to switch off the gag reflex and to be able to remove the swallowed fishbone with suitable equipment, the ENT doctor carries out a spray anesthesia of the throat.
ENT specialists are rarely able to locate or remove the stuck bone. Even if the annoying symptoms subside at some point, a larger fishbone should always be removed. Otherwise it can grow in and cause inflammation. A bone drilled into the wall of the esophagus can be viewed critically. This can lead to infections or, in severe cases, to life-threatening abscesses. If necessary, a reflection from a gastrointestinal specialist should be considered.
To prevent fish bones from being swallowed, fish dishes should be freed from bones as much as possible before consumption. Furthermore, longer chewing is recommended in order to feel and remove possible bones before swallowing the food.
In most cases, no follow-up care is necessary for a swallowed fishbone, as small, completely swallowed bones are dissolved in the stomach without consequences. Treatment and aftercare are unnecessary.
Follow-up care should only be considered if the swallowed bone has caused damage. If there is bleeding or swelling, the area should be examined by a doctor. If necessary, an antibiotic is administered after the (surgical) removal of the bones to prevent infections. The injuries can be helped to heal with sprays and medication.
If an operation was performed to remove a bone from the windpipe, the surgical scars must be treated in the same way as other scars. Regular checks over a period of a few weeks are appropriate, but not always necessary.
If there is still pain or swelling at the point where the bone has attached, an ENT doctor should have a check-up. If necessary, inflamed or damaged tissue must be treated again.
It seldom happens that a swallowed fishbone leads to long-term visits to the doctor. This can only be caused by deep perforations and inflammation that has occurred.
You can do that yourself
If a fishbone has been swallowed, no action is necessary in most cases. If the fishbone gets into the stomach, the stomach acid will dissolve it and make it digestible.
If those affected fear the occurrence of rare complications in this connection (perforation of the stomach, etc.), they can actively stimulate gastric acid production so that the fishbone is digested better. Ginger, for example, can be eaten for this. The intake of bitter substances also has a positive effect on the formation of stomach acid.
In addition, the meal should simply be continued, swallowing in small bites. This achieves maximum mixing of the food pulp, which goes hand in hand with more thorough digestion – and thus with better dissolution of the fish bones.
On the other hand, if the bone is noticeably in the throat after being swallowed, after trying to cough it up, it should be carried further down by taking in bread and water. If it is high enough, it can also be removed with tweezers. It also often helps to wait.
People who have swallowed a fishbone and show no acute symptoms (pain, shortness of breath) and still panic should also be calmed down and encouraged to drink water. The same applies to children.