What happens if you swallow a fish bone?

Sunday April 03 2016
hl003 pix

The first pronounced sign after swallowing a bone is pain in the throat. Photo by Rachel Mabala

I remember the experience like it was yesterday. While growing up, I remember one particular dinner when my sister accidentally swallowed a fish bone.
Probably we would not have known about it until she started crying because “something” was piecing her throat.
Since we were having fish, it did not take not take long to figure out her source of discomfort. She was made to lie on the carpet and given several glasses of water at different intervals. When that did not work, she was hit on the back until she could not feel the bone anymore.

Different types
Many people get scared when they swallow a bone, be it fish or any other bone for that matter. What immediately comes to their mind is where it will end up.
Dr Umarashid Guloba, a general practitioner at AAR explains that the effects of a swallowed bone depend on its size. “If it is big and cannot pass through the throat, you will choke. When this happens, you will need medical attention for it to be removed since it will have blocked the food passage,” Dr Guloba says. He adds, adding that it can be taken out either by surgery or going down the throat on its own until it is excreted.

He explains further; “when you swallow a bone you will get pain and the only ways the bone can be removed from the throat is by hitting you at the back or carry out an abdominal thrust.”
An abdominal thrust is the first aid used for treating someone who has choked on food. When the airway has been closed either completely or partially as result of the bone eaten in the food, it leads to the obstruction of the airway.
If the food blocks the airway and it is obstructed completely or partially, someone will chock. To relieve the chocking, someone needs to be beaten at the back.

Dr Guloba says if a bone is swallowed and it passes through the throat, that means it is small and can be digested. “In some cases, it (bone) may get temporarily stuck in the intestines but will eventually be passed out as stool.
The victim feels something hard when passing out stool meaning the bone was not digested and is painfully undergoing the process of excretion,” Guloba says.
Additionally, he says there are scenarios where a bone gets stuck during the process of digestion either in the stomach or in the small intestines. “If a bone gets stuck in the body and it is causing discomfort, it is advisable to seek medical attention which may involve surgery,” Guloba advises.
Dr Arnold Nkalubo, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Mulago National Referral Hospital says common groups of people susceptible to swallowing bones, include those who eat communally, those who eat in dim light and cannot properly see what they are putting in their mouths, those who mix different meats as well as those who use forks.

First aid
“When you suspect to have swallowed a bone, it is advisable to stop eating immediately. You should take a glass of water and seek medical attention immediately,” Nkalubo advises. He cautions people against eating hard foods such as cassava or posho to wash down the bone.
“When you eat hard foods, it worsens the situation by pushing the bone deeper into the throat making it hard to be removed. The best thing is to drink a glass of water or juice and seek medical attention,” Nkalubo advises.
In most cases, he says bones swallowed usually clear the throat by themselves as long as the victim takes plenty of water.

Home solutions


These are some of the home remedies you can try out.
Banana remedy - one of the most common home remedies that a lot of people know about, and use when they do find a fishbone stuck in their throat, is the one that uses a banana. What you need to do is to bite off a big enough piece from a peeled banana, but do not chew. Keep the banana in your mouth for at least a minute to get it properly moistened, and then swallow this piece whole. Have a glass of water ready when you do this. The idea here is that the banana will be slippery enough to go through your throat yet big enough to dislodge the fishbone stuck there.

Rice ball remedy - cook some rice until these are soft and sticky. Cool the rice a bit (just enough for you to be able to ingest these safely without burning yourself), form into a small-sized ball, and swallow this ball whole. Do not chew before swallowing. Prepare a glass of water when you do this as well.
Peanut butter and bread bemedy – this is another sticky remedy that may help dislodge that stuck fishbone from your throat. Spread a thick layer of peanut butter on a piece of bread and put this in your mouth. Wait for your saliva to moisten the bread enough to make this easier to swallow, then swallow this combination whole. The peanut butter and the bread should be able to drag the fishbone down your gullet with it.

Nuts remedy – this is an alternative to the peanut butter remedy, with the person suffering from the stuck fishbone masticating a mouthful of nuts (any nuts will do), and swallowing these while these still have a rather rough or coarse texture to it. The rough and sticky mouthful should drag the fishbone from where it is stuck and down to the person’s stomach.
If none of these remedies work, then you should consider going to a doctor immediately to have it removed. Leaving a fishbone stuck in your throat for a day or two may result in an infection. If these remedies do not dislodge the fishbone from your throat, it can mean that it embedded itself deeper than expected and may need professional medical attention to get it removed.