One common emergency that ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) surgeons are called upon to see is a fish bone stuck in the throat.

The accidental ingestion of fish bones is very common. Tiny fish bones may be easily missed while preparing fish or while chewing your food. Fish bones that have sharp edges and odd shapes are more likely to get stuck in your throat. The types of fish that usually contain bones that can be easily missed are shad, pike, carp, trout, and salmon. 

A mishap of this kind is usually followed by an immediate sharp pain in the throat, corresponding to the area in which the fish bone is lodged. There may also be coughing, difficulty in swallowing, foreign body sensation in the throat. You may also have a tingling or prickling sensation in your throat and you can cough up blood-stained oral secretions as well. 

Realizing that they have swallowed a fish bone, patients usually resort to many well-tried home remedies. Some of the common ones are:

1. Forceful coughing or attempted vomiting. Coughing pushes air hard enough to displace any foreign body, such as a fish bone from your throat. 

2. Drinking diluted vinegar with the hope of breaking down the bone. Vinegar is acidic in nature and drinking vinegar may help break down the fish bone, making it softer and easier to swallow. Mix about 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a cup of water and then drink it.

3. Drinking aerated water/ soda. Carbonated/aerated beverages have been used by ENT specialists to remove food stuck in your throats.

When soda enters your stomach, it releases gasses. These gases help break down the bone and build up pressure which travels up your throat and can dislodge the stuck fish bone.

4. Swallowing a large piece of bread soaked in water. This remedy is tried with the hope that the weight of the bread (when swallowed) will dislodge the bone stuck in the throat.

5. Swallowing a large morsel of rice or eating a banana. Make a medium-sized ball of well-cooked rice or of mashed potatoes and gulp the whole thing at once. The idea is that the stuck fish bone in your throat will stick to the ball of rice or potatoes and will be swallowed along with it. 

Similarly, a big bite of a banana might grab the stuck fish bone and help pull it down to your stomach.

If the fish bone is very tiny, these home remedies might help in dislodging it and give your relief. It may so happen that these attempts to remove the bone can go wrong and sometimes be dangerous, leading to serious trauma in the throat.

In case these home remedies do not help, or you have sudden difficulty in breathing, rush to the emergency unit of the hospital or contact your ENT specialist immediately.

How Can Your Doctor Help

Stuck fish bone, if small, can be removed easily by the doctor. Your doctor can remove the fish bone using special tweezers, but in most difficult cases, it may be necessary to perform an endoscopy. 

An endoscope is a long, flexible tube with a small camera on the end. Your doctor will spray a local anaesthetic (a medication that causes the absence of pain sensation) in your mouth and either extract the fish bone or push it down into your stomach. 

Your ENT specialist has to be very careful while removing a stuck fish bone since he/she might be posed with certain challenges like:

1. Difficulty in locating the exact part. Pain localization in the lower part of your throat is not very accurate so you may not be able to help your doctor pinpoint the precise location of the obstruction.

2. Difficulty in seeing the fish bone. A fish bone is small and sharp and quite often mimics saliva, so it is difficult to see. Saliva is the extracellular fluid produced by the salivary glands in your mouth. 

3. Difficulty in recognizing the fish bone through an x-ray. There is not enough calcium in a fish bone to be picked up on an X-ray. An X-ray is usually not successful in showing where a fish bone is stuck unless it is large or has caused complications like an abscess formation in the surrounding area.

Do not panic if a fish bone is stuck in your throat. Certain groups like the elderly who use dentures (synthetic replacements for missing natural teeth), children, and intoxicated persons are more at risk of getting a fish bone stuck in their throat. 

You can reduce your risk by eating small bites and being more careful while eating a bony fish. If a fish bone is stuck in your throat and you have pain and discomfort while swallowing and difficulty in breathing, rush to the emergency unit of the hospital. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.