A fish bone stuck in the throat can be easily removed or dislodged by coughing forcefully, eating a soft or moist food (like a banana or a marshmallow), or drinking olive oil.
Having one stuck can feel uncomfortable and can mimic a sensation of a lump in the throat. In more severe cases, symptoms may also include blood in the saliva and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
If you are unable to safely remove the bone at home and resolve your discomfort, you should go to the emergency room.
How to remove a fish bone from your throat
Some home remedies for a fish bone in your throat include:
1. Eat a banana
A simple way to remove a small fish bone stuck in your throat is to eat a banana, as this is a soft food that will not hurt the esophagus when passing through. When swallowed, the chewed banana can pick-up the fish bone and push it into the stomach, where it will eventually be dissolved by gastric acid.
2. Cough forcefully
Coughing is the body's first defense mechanism to protect against abnormalities in the throat and airways. Coughing creates a strong force of air that can displace foreign bodies in the airways, such as a fish bone.
So, in the moment you feel the bone becoming stick, you should allow your cough reflex to kick in. It may help release the fish bone from the throat, causing an immediate sense of relief.
3. Eat moistened bread or cooked rice
This technique works similarly to the banana. Take a piece of bread and and soak it milk. Once wet, squeeze and roll the bread into a small ball that can be swallowed whole. Once swallowed, the fish bone sticks to the bread, helping to push it into the stomach.
Other foods that can be ingested to loosen the bone are well-cooked rice or potatoes because, similar to the above foods, they are soft and can stick to the bone.
4. Drink olive oil
Olive oil is not easily absorbed, like water is, which allows it to keep the lining of the throat hydrated for longer. This can stimulate natural movements of the esophagus to push the fish bone out.
Therefore, it is better to drink a small shot of olive oil rather than water, as it is more lubricating. If you cannot drink pure olive oil, you can mix it in a cup of water.
5. Drink something acidic
Is is thought that consuming an acidic drink, like vinegar-water or soda, can help to soften very fine fish bones. By making the fish bones more soft, they may be easier to swallow and may even dissolve and disappear.
6. Wait for it to pass on its own
Many times, the discomfort felt from the fish bone may not be the fish bone at all. The fish bone could have been temporarily lodged in the throat, causing local inflammation and irritation, but could have been swallowed on its own, leaving the damage behind. Waiting a few hours may help you determine whether the fish bone is indeed still stuck, or whether it is mild tissue damage you are feeling.
7. Eat a marshmallow
Similar to the bread, rice or bananas, marshmallows are soft enough to push down any fish bones that may be stuck. Marshmallows have the additional benefit of being sticky enough for the bone to adhere to it during swallowing. Therefore, you should chew the marshmallow until moistened, and then swallow, maintaining the marshmallow piece as big as you can when swallowed.
8. Drink a thick milkshake or smoothie
A thick drink, like a milkshake or smoothie, can help to push the fish bone down the throat, especially if gulped forcefully. These drinks have the added benefit of being cold, which can soothe any irritation or discomfort caused by the fish bone.
9. Gargle warm salt water
This method is especially useful for fish bones that are stuck in the upper throat. The gargling motion can help to contract and relax muscles of the esophagus, so that the fish bone can dislodge itself. The salt water can help with any irritation or inflammation caused by the fish bone.
You can prepare the solution by mixing 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water and stirring until completely dissolved. Gargle for 30 seconds and spit the water out, repeating until you feel relief.
10. Eat dry crackers
This method involves swallowing as many dry crackers as you can, making sure to only chew them enough so that they can be swallowed as a whole. This idea is that the bolus that is swallowed scraped against the throat to dislodge the bone. Make sure to have a cup of water handy in case you find the crackers hard to swallow on their own.
What you should not do
It is important to avoid scraping your throat with any type of utensil or even your fingers to remove the fish bone, especially when it is not visible. Small wounds in your throat or esophageal wall can end up causing more discomfort and increase your risk of infection.
When to go to the doctor
Most cases can be treated at home, however it is important to go to the emergency room whenever you cannot remove the fish bone using one of the techniques mentioned above, or if you experience:
- Very intense pain
- Heavy bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
Generally, the doctor can remove the fish bone using special tweezers, but in the most difficult cases it may be necessary to perform a minor surgery to remove the fish bone. In these cases, the fish bone is removed and you are discharged home immediately after, as it is a very simple surgery that often does not even involve any incisions to the skin.