Foreign body

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Non-physiological material somewhere in the body where it does not normally belong. Any cavity or orifice may be affected.

Adverse sequelae, if any, depend on the material and the location. However, any foreign material in the airway may be life-threatening.



Short-term complications include obstruction (such as obstruction to the airway or gastrointestinal tract), and trauma (including the trauma of insertion and the trauma created by attempted removal).

Intermediate and long-term complications are often related to the inflammatory response and presence of infection.

  • Abscess
  • Sinus
  • Fistula
  • Fibrosis
  • Granuloma



  • Bullets
  • Shrapnel
  • Splinters

Iatrogenic (intentional)

  • Orthopaedic prostheses or metal work
  • Meshes in hernia repair
  • Surgical sutures and clips
  • Breast implants
  • Stents
  • Shunts
  • Catheters
  • Surgical drains, chest drains
  • Cannulae and venous access devices

Iatrogenic (accidental)

  • Retained intra-operative swabs
  • Lost guidewires from the Seldinger technique
  • Sheared-off cannulae. An area of induration and erythema may be present and can be difficult to distinguish from thrombophlebitis. An ultrasound scan can be helpful, if in doubt. Intravenous cannulae are designed to be radio-opaque and are so visible on radiograph too.


Foreign objects or material may be deliberately or accidentally introduced into the body.

Children are particularly prone to inserting foreign objects (such as parts of toys, sweets, etc.) into the ears or nose, where they may become stuck. Children may also swallow non-food objects (coins, marbles) or occasionally inhale objects into the airway (nuts are a classic example).

A variety of objects may be deliberately inserted into the rectum, vagina or penile urethra by adults for the purposes of sexual gratification. These can occasionally prove difficult to remove.

AXR showing 2 fragments of glass and several metal staples.
Radiograph of groin showing needle. The metal spring and tip of a pen is visible to show the level.

Some individuals with psychiatric disorders may regularly insert or swallow harmful objects such as safety pins or razor blades. These can be difficult to remove and may be best left alone if not symptomatic.

Foreign material introduced into the body may include:

  • Cotton buds in ears
  • Inhaled foreign bodies
  • Swallowed foreign bodies
  • Vaginal foreign bodies
  • Rectal foreign bodies
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