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J Emerg Med. 2019 May;56(5):499-511. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2019.01.025. Epub 2019 Mar 23.

Esophageal Foreign Bodies and Obstruction in the Emergency Department Setting: An Evidence-Based Review.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Department of Emergency Medicine, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.
Department of Emergency Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.



Patients with esophageal foreign bodies or food bolus impaction may present to the emergency department with symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe distress. There is a dearth of emergency medicine-focused literature concerning these conditions.


This narrative review provides evidence-based recommendations for the assessment and management of patients with esophageal foreign bodies and food bolus impactions.


Esophageal foreign bodies and food bolus impaction are common but typically pass spontaneously; however, complete obstruction can lead to inability to tolerate secretions, airway compromise, and death. Pediatric patients are the most common population affected, while in adults, edentulous patients are at greatest risk. Foreign body obstruction and food bolus impaction typically occur at sites of narrowing due to underlying esophageal pathology. Diagnosis is based on history and examination, with most patients presenting with choking/gagging, vomiting, and dysphagia/odynophagia. The preferred test is a plain chest radiograph, although this is not required if the clinician suspects non-bony food bolus with no suspicion of perforation. Computed tomography is recommended if radiograph is limited or there are concerns for perforation. Management requires initial assessment of the patient's airway. Medications evaluated include effervescent agents, glucagon, calcium channel blockers, benzodiazepines, nitrates, and others, but their efficacy is poor. Before administration, shared decision making with the patient is recommended. Endoscopy is the intervention of choice, and medications should not delay endoscopy. Early endoscopy for complete obstruction is associated with improved outcomes.


This review provides evidence-based recommendations concerning these conditions, focusing on evaluation and management.


complete obstruction; endoscopy; esophageal foreign body; food bolus impaction

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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