Skip to Main Content Skip to Site Map Skip to Accessibility Statement

Swallowed something

Poisonous substances
Button batteries or strong magnets
Red symptoms

Green symptoms
How long will your child’s symptoms last?
Where to seek help
Useful links


Children are curious and often put objects in their mouth and accidentally swallow them.

These might be toys they were playing with or other objects they find, such as batteries or pillsIf you know or suspect what your child might have swallowed, it can be helpful to take an example or any packaging with you to the hospital.

Sometimes you might not be sure if your child has swallowed something, or they might tell you but you haven’t witnessed them do it. If you think your child might have swallowed or choked on something, check for the red symptoms below and take them to your nearest Emergency Department. Tell the nurse or doctor what you are worried about, let them know if you have any button batteries or small magnets in the house, and if any might be missing.

If your child has swallowed something else that is smaller than a sweet, isn’t sharp or isn’t poisonous, you can watch them closely at home. Most objects will pass through the intestines without any difficulty. Studies suggest that it takes about three to five days for the object to pass out into the stool (poo). You do not need to check your child’s poos for the objects but watch closely for any of the red and amber signs below.

Poisonous substances 

If you think your child has swallowed pills or medicines: 

  • Unless you’re absolutely sure what they are, spend a minute or two looking for the missing pills.
  • If you still think your child has swallowed something, take them straight to the nearest Emergency Department.
  • Take the full set of tablets with you so the doctors can check the labelling and calculate how much your child may have taken.
  • Keep a close eye on your child and be prepared to follow the resuscitation sequence.
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so you can tell the doctor.
  • Do not give your child salt and water or do anything else to make them sick.
  • Try to keep your child calm and do not encourage them to walk around to stay awake.

If you think your child has swallowed household or garden chemicals: 

  • Calm your child down as much as you can (this will be easier if you stay calm yourself).
  • Act quickly and get your child to the nearest Emergency Department.
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so you can tell the doctor.
  • If your child is in pain or there’s any staining, soreness or blistering around their mouth, they’ve probably swallowed something corrosive. Give them milk or water to sip to ease the burning and get them to hospital quickly.

Button batteries or strong magnets 

  • Button batteries

    All batteries can be harmful if swallowed, but button batteries are particularly dangerous. These batteries are flat, round and silver, ranging from 5 to 25 millimetres in diameter.

    Button batteries can get stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe) and cause permanent damage within hours. As well as being a choking hazard, button batteries can cause internal burns, internal bleeding and sometimes death. They can also cause burns if they’re lodged in a child’s nose or ear.

    If your child swallows a button battery or you think they may have swallowed one, take them to the nearest Emergency Department straight away. They might need to undergo a procedure to remove it.

    Button batteries are found in many objects you might have at home, including hearing aids, car keys, remote controls, weighing scales, musical greeting cards and some toys.

    What you can do
    • Check every battery powered device in your home and anywhere your child stays. Ensure the battery case is shut and secured.
    • Know what objects in your home use button batteries and do not let your child play with them. Keep these objects out of your child’s sight and reach.
    • Be careful buying toys online, overseas or in markets as these may not meet UK toy safety standards.
    • Teach older children about the dangers of button batteries and emphasise that they should not give them to younger children to play with.
    • Keep spare batteries in a locked cabinet or box.
    • Dispose of old batteries safely. Anywhere that sells batteries, such as a supermarket, should offer collection of old batteries.


    Click here for more information on button battery safety.

  • Magnets

    Strong (rare earth) magnets are popular toys but can easily be swallowed by young children and can cause serious intestinal injuries. Magnetic ball toys are about 10 times stronger than traditional magnets.

    If a child swallows more than one of the magnetic balls, they can stick to each other inside the body and cause damage to the bowel and other structures. They can be difficult to remove and it often requires surgery.

    If you suspect your child has swallowed any magnets, you should take them to the nearest Emergency Department straight away. X-rays can be taken that will help assess if your child has swallowed a metallic object and needs any other treatment.

    What you can do:

    • Do not buy magnetic ball toys for your children or other people’s children.
    • If your child is older, talk to them about the dangers of these toys and discourage them from buying magnets. It is very easy to buy unregulated toys online. Even if your child is sensible, accidents can happen.
    • If you have these magnets in the house, consider getting rid of them.


    Click here for more information on magnetic toys.

    Click here for more information on toy safety.

    Click here for more information on choking prevention.


Red Symptom image


Check if your child has any red symptoms:
  • Your child has swallowed a battery.
  • Has swallowed a magnet or more than one magnet.
  • Has swallowed something large or sharp.
  • Has swallowed the object to harm themselves.
  • Is drooling more than normal or has blisters in their mouth.
  • Develops noisy breathing or difficulty breathing, with any changes to their normal voice or a new cough.
  • Is choking or coughing when eating or drinking.
  • Is refusing food or eating less than usual.
  • Starts gagging, vomiting or retching. Dark green vomiting can mean there is a blockage somewhere in the intestine.
  • Develops pain in their chest or neck.
  • Has blood in their vomit or poo.
  • Becomes confused or is difficult to wake.
Actions to take if your child has any red symptoms
  • Your child may require emergency treatment.
  • You should call 999 or take them to your NEAREST Emergency Department where they can be assessed.

Green Symptom image


If no red symptoms are present:
  • your child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury
  • you can get general advice on the NI Direct website or from your local pharmacy

If your child develops any of the red symptoms above, you should call 999 or take them to your nearest Emergency Department.

How you can help manage your child at home if they have swallowed something

If you think your child might have swallowed something small that doesn’t have a sharp point (such as a coin or plastic bead), you do not need to take them to the Emergency Department immediately. Over the next couple of days, watch for symptoms that might suggest:

It can be challenging to stop young children putting things in their mouth that they might swallow. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of accidents happening. You can learn about which objects are particularly harmful if swallowed and then reduce the risk of your child getting hold of these objects.

Where to seek help

Useful links

Community pharmacists in Northern Ireland
How to take your baby’s temperature
Health visiting