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Every year about 500 children worldwide wind up in the hospital because they got a husk of popcorn stuck in their throats. Popcorn actually isn't the most common problem food; more children have to be hospitalized because they have managed to get carrots, sunflower seeds, sunflower husks, watermelon seeds, fish bones, or peanuts not just in their throats but in their lungs. But whether you are a child or an adult, whether it is a popcorn husk or a fish bone or a watermelon seed or something else, getting a husk stuck in your throat, where it could be inhaled into your lungs, is bad news. What can you do?

First of all, it's important to realize when you shouldn't pursue-self help and you need to see a doctor right away.

  • Anytime you have trouble breathing, you need to see a doctor. A feeling of having something stuck in your throat sometimes is the first sign of strangulation, which can be fatal.
  • If there is redness, fever, or swelling of the neck, get to a doctor right away. This could be an allergic reaction, or it could mean that a sharp object in your food, like a fish bone, has worked its way through the lining of the esophagus into the muscles of your throat.
  • If you have tiny broken blood vessels in the whites of your eyes (petechiae), see a doctor right away.
  • If you have a mild cough, make arrangements to see a doctor soon. A mild cough can mean there is an ongoing obstruction in your throat that could shift into a more dangerous position.
  • If you are worn out because you can't breathe well, get to an emergency room.
  • If you also have laryngitis, swelling around your throat, or fever, don't try self-help. Go to see your doctor immediately. Don't try to take care of the problem on your own. These indicate potentially serious complications.

There are also times having something stuck in your throat isn't a medical emergency.

  • If you feel like you have something stuck in your throat, you probably do.
  • Husks, seeds, and bones usually lodge in the tonsils or at the base of the tongue. The usual advice to eat bread or drink water is most effective for husks and seeds stuck in the tonsils. Soft white bread is better than crispy or whole meal bread, and water should be warm, taken in a large gulp and swallowed slowly.
  • Food items that get stuck in your throat tend to dislodge spontaneously at unexpected times. You may or may not be aware of the exact time they come loose. If this happens in sleep, there is more of a danger you will breathe them into your lungs without knowing it.
  • When something is stuck in your throat, avoid carbonated beverages, sodas, citrus juices, vinegary foods, and lemon juice. If the food stuck in your throat is large, these acidic liquids will have trouble going down and irritate your throat and mouth.
  • Many people try to make themselves gag and vomit up food stuck in their throat. This usually isn't a good idea, because it's possible to vomit and still have food stuck in your throat. This increases the risk of aspirating vomit into your lungs and generally leaves you feeling miserable.

Having something stuck in your throat is uncomfortable, but slow and sure is the best way to deal with the problem. Keep your mouth and throat moist. Warm beverages are better than cold. A cup of hot tea will help you dislodge food particles better than a glass of cold water. Soft bread often dislodges food trapped on the tonsils or the base of the tongue. Well-chewed meals of warm, cooked foods will help dislodge particles trapped in the esophagus.

Prevention is better than cure when it comes keeping your throat clear of food. Eat slowly. Drink water with your meals. If you eat hard, dry food like crackers, nibble, don't gulp. Keep each bite small. If you smoke, don't smoke during the hour before you eat. Smoking interferes with salivation, which lubricates the passage of food. If you eat salty foods, eat them at the beginning of your meal, to encourage salivation to keep your mouth moist and to help food go down easily.

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