Swallowing a fish bone is a common occurrence, especially for people who eat a lot of fish. Though fish bones are often small, oddly shaped, and sharp, the bone will usually pass through the digestive tract without any issues. However, some people may end up with a fish bone stuck in their throat.
If this occurs, the lodged bone can cause discomfort and panic, though it is not usually painful. Due to the common nature of this occurrence, there are many established methods that can help dislodge the fish bone from the throat.
Keep reading for more information on what it feels like, how to remove a bone, and when to see a doctor.
A person is likely to feel the fish bone as soon as it gets stuck. The cause of any discomfort is also likely to be immediately apparent.
Aside from general discomfort, there are several other possible symptoms of having a bone stuck in the throat, including:
- a prickly or tingly sensation in the throat
- pain when swallowing
- difficulty swallowing
- a feeling of fullness at the base of the neck
- a sharp pain where the bone has impacted the throat
- spitting up blood
If a person believes that they have a fish bone stuck in their throat that they cannot remove, they should see a doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Most fish bones are very sharp. They can cut or cause an abrasion on the throat on their way down, even if they do not get stuck. In these cases, it may feel as though the bone is stuck in the throat, when in reality, it has already passed through the esophagus toward the stomach.
However, if the person is spitting blood, can confirm that the bone has impacted, or is having trouble breathing, they should immediately go to their doctor or the emergency room. They should not go to bed if they suspect that a bone is lodged in their throat.
Possible complications of having a fish bone stuck in the throat include:
- an inability to swallow food
- puncturing the esophagus
- chest pain
There are several potential methods a person can try at home that may help remove the fish bone without medical intervention. However, each person is different and results can vary.
To try some fish bone removal methods at home:
- Cough forcefully.
- Drink a small amount of vinegar to help break the bone down with the acid.
- Drink soda. The gases it produces in the stomach can help break down the bone.
- Drink 1 tablespoon of olive oil to help lubricate and free the bone.
- Swallow a large bite of banana. This may stick to the bone and dislodge it.
- Take a large bite of bread and peanut butter. This could help loosen the bone.
- Soak bread in water for a few seconds, then swallow a large chunk. The weight could dislodge the bone.
- Partially chew a large marshmallow and swallow it whole. The stickiness may help loosen the bone from the throat.
If the fish bone remains lodged, a person should seek medical advice.
If various attempts to dislodge the fish bone do not work, a person should see their doctor or healthcare provider.
If the bone remains stuck in the esophagus, it can lead to some complications, including tearing the esophagus. On rare occasions, these complications can be life threatening.
If a person experiences any of the following, they should seek immediate medical attention:
- pain in the chest
- swelling or bruising
- no longer able to eat or drink
A doctor can often remove a bone quickly. In some cases, they may turn to endoscopy to find the bone and dislodge it. During an endoscopy, a doctor uses a long, thin tube with a camera at one end to examine the throat.
In rarer cases, a doctor may have to use an X-ray to locate the bone. For example, a case study from 2003 described a woman who swallowed a fish bone that ended up traveling to one of the muscles in the neck area.
Around the world, there are several types of fish that contain small bones. These are more likely to get lodged in the throat. Here are a few examples:
How a person cooks the fish can also affect the likelihood of a bone becoming lodged in the throat. In a 2015 study of people with problems related to eating fish bones, stews and baked fish were involved in the most cases of bones getting stuck in the throat.
Accidently swallowing a fish bone is avoidable. If a person removes the bones before cooking, it can help reduce the risk. However, since many bones are tiny, it can be hard to locate and remove them all.
Another tip for prevention is to eat only fillets of fish. However, people should keep in mind that no bone removal method is perfect, so a fillet of fish may still contain bones.
Certain people are at higher risk of choking on food. These include:
If a person eats fish as part of their regular diet, they are at risk of getting a bone stuck in their throat.
There are many methods a person can try at home to dislodge a fish bone. In some cases, the bone may dislodge itself in time.
However, if symptoms worsen, a person should speak to a doctor.