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How To Remove a Foreign Body From the Nose


Waleed M Abuzeid

, BSc, MBBS, University of Washington

Last review/revision Nov 2020 | Modified Sep 2022
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Removal of a foreign body from the nose requires specific instruments and skills.

Nasal foreign bodies are occasionally present in young children, the cognitively impaired, and psychiatric patients. Common objects pushed into the nose include cotton, paper, pebbles, beads, beans, seeds, nuts, insects, and button batteries.

Most foreign bodies are in the most anterior part of the anterior nasal vault and are easily seen using a nasal speculum.

Button batteries and magnets must be removed immediately because they may burn or perforate the nasal mucosa and/or septum (from leakage of corrosive battery contents, direct pressure, or electrical injury).


  • Simple nasal foreign body*

* Common, self-inserted objects as in examples above (not including projectiles, impalements, or other complex situations)


Absolute contraindications

  • Inability to see the foreign body or reach it with available instruments

Relative contraindications

  • Impacted foreign body associated with significant inflammation and/or edema

  • Foreign body that is small, transparent, and/or situated far posteriorly or superiorly

  • Failed attempts at removal

Consult an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist (who may need to do nasal endoscopy) if there is doubt about the ability to remove the object or if repeated attempts at removal have been unsuccessful. Multiple attempts increase the risk of injury and/or movement of the object deeper into the nose where it is more difficult to retrieve.


  • Injury to nasal mucosa and resultant bleeding

  • Aspiration of the object, particularly in sedated patients


  • Chair with headrest or an ENT specialist's chair

  • Light source and head mirror or headlamp with adjustable narrow beam

  • Gloves, mask, and gown

  • Topical anesthetic/vasoconstrictor mixture (eg, 4% cocaine, 1% tetracaine, or 4% lidocaine plus 0.5% oxymetazoline)

  • Cotton swabs or pledgets to apply topical drugs

  • Nasal speculum

  • Suction source and Frazier-tip and/or other suction-tip suction catheters of various sizes

  • Bayonet or alligator forceps

  • Wire loop and hook curettes

  • Balloon-tipped catheter (5 to 8 French Fogarty catheter or Katz extractor)

Young children typically require restraint or sedation. Restraint can be done using sheets or a commercial immobilization board but is emotionally traumatic. Unless the foreign body appears quite close to the nares and easy to remove very quickly, sedation (eg, using ketamine or another appropriate drug) is usually preferred, so one or more of these drugs should be available.

Additional Considerations

  • Button batteries and magnets must be removed immediately. Batteries may cause chemical burns (from leakage of battery contents) or electrical injury of the nasal tissue, and magnets can cause pressure necrosis of nasal structures, including the septum. Consider urgent ENT consultation in these cases.

Relevant Anatomy

  • The lateral wall of the nose has 3 turbinates. These can be fragile and should not be mistaken for foreign bodies or tumors.

  • The nasal septum is often deviated and this should be sought on examination to prevent trauma to the septum with the introduction of instruments.


  • The patient should sit upright in the sniffing position with head extended, preferably in a specialized ENT chair. The patient's occiput should be supported to prevent sudden backward movement. The patient's nose should be level with the physician's eyes.

Step-by-Step Description of Procedure

  • Have the patient gently blow the nose to remove mucus and perhaps the foreign body. If the nose is dripping, suction the nasal passageway carefully to remove mucus without pushing the foreign body further posterior.

  • Apply a topical anesthetic and vasoconstrictor to reduce sensitivity and mucosal swelling.

  • Wait 3 to 5 minutes to allow the anesthetic and vasoconstrictor to take effect. If there is still significant edema, apply a second treatment of topical vasoconstrictor.

  • Insert a nasal speculum with your index finger resting against the patient's nose or cheek and the handle parallel to the floor (so the blades open vertically).

  • Slowly open the speculum and examine the nose using a bright headlamp or head mirror, which leaves one hand free to manipulate suction or an instrument.

  • Use a Frazier-tip suction catheter to remove any mucus obscuring the view.

  • For certain soft objects and hard objects with a graspable edge located anteriorly, grasp and remove the object using a forceps (eg, alligator or bayonet forceps).

  • Remove harder or larger objects located anteriorly by placing a wire loop or hook curette behind the object and gently pulling.

  • Remove smooth, round objects using a suction catheter; place the suction tip against the object with the finger control open. Then cover the finger control to apply suction and gently remove the object.

  • Remove objects not amenable to an anterior approach with a balloon-tipped catheter (eg, an 8 French urinary catheter). Insert the lubricated deflated balloon behind the object, then slowly inflate the balloon with air—about 2 mL in small children, 3 mL in older children, and 5 mL in adults. Slowly withdraw the balloon, pulling the object forward until resistance is met, then remove the object. Deflate the balloon and remove it from the nose.


  • After removal of magnets or batteries, refer patients for otolaryngology evaluation due to the risk of nasal soft tissue damage from the foreign body.

  • Antibiotics are typically not indicated following removal of a foreign body.

Warnings and Common Errors

  • Do not open the nasal speculum laterally or use in an unsupported manner. (Brace a finger of the hand holding the speculum on the patient's cheek or nose.)

  • Trying to grab round, smooth objects with forceps often makes them slip deeper.

  • Cease attempts at removal if they are unsuccessful. Making repeated attempts is a common cause of unnecessary trauma.

  • In general, removal by direct visualization and instrumentation is preferable to other techniques.

Tips and Tricks

  • Elevating the patient's chair to eye height is easier on the practitioner's back than bending down.

  • Examine the contralateral nasal cavity, oral cavity, and ear canals for additional foreign bodies.

  • Reexamine the nose after removal of a foreign body to prevent missing another foreign body.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
AK-T Caine, Pontocaine, Pontocaine in Dextrose, Pontocaine Niphanoid, Tetcaine, TetraVisc, TetraVisc Forte, Viractin
7T Lido, Akten , ALOCANE, ANASTIA, AneCream, Anestacon, Aspercreme, Aspercreme with Lidocaine, Astero , BenGay, Blue Tube, Blue-Emu, CidalEaze, DermacinRx Lidogel, DermacinRx Lidorex, DERMALID, Ela-Max, GEN7T, Glydo, LidaMantle, Lidocare, Lidoderm, LidoDose, LidoDose Pediatric, Lidofore, LidoHeal-90, LIDO-K , Lidomar , Lidomark, LidoReal-30, LidoRx, Lidosense 4 , Lidosense 5, LIDO-SORB, Lidotral, Lidovix L, LIDOZION, Lidozo, LMX 4, LMX 4 with Tegaderm, LMX 5, LTA, Lydexa, Moxicaine, Numbonex, ReadySharp Lidocaine, RectaSmoothe, RectiCare, Salonpas Lidocaine, Senatec, Solarcaine, SUN BURNT PLUS, Tranzarel, Xylocaine, Xylocaine Dental, Xylocaine in Dextrose, Xylocaine MPF, Xylocaine Topical, Xylocaine Topical Jelly, Xylocaine Topical Solution, Xylocaine Viscous, Zilactin-L, Zingo, Zionodi, ZTlido
12 Hour Nasal , Afrin, Afrin Extra Moisturizing, Afrin Nasal Sinus, Afrin No Drip Severe Congestion, Dristan, Duration, Genasal , Mucinex Children's Stuffy Nose, Mucinex Full Force, Mucinex Moisture Smart, Mucinex Sinus-Max, Mucinex Sinus-Max Sinus & Allergy, NASAL Decongestant, Nasal Relief , Neo-Synephrine 12-Hour, Neo-Synephrine Severe Sinus Congestion, Nostrilla Fast Relief, Reliable-1 12 hour Decongestant, Rhinase D, RHOFADE, Sinex 12-Hour, Sudafed OM Sinus Cold Moisturizing, Sudafed OM Sinus Congestion Moisturizing, Upneeq, Vicks Qlearquil Decongestant, Vicks Sinex, Vicks Sinex Severe, Visine L.R., Zicam Extreme Congestion Relief, Zicam Intense Sinus
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NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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