According to a study (2013):

Ingestion of fish bones or coins by young children is a relatively common presentation in the PED, and it is associated with frequent medical interventions. Although the overall prognosis is good, and improving the health education of the population should be considered to reduce the frequency of these episodes.

Note: PED = Pediatric Emergency Department

Also, in some extremely rare cases the bone can penetrate the digestive tract and end up in other organs (2015).

Fish bones come in various sizes, hardness etc. Eating fish would inevitably result in swallowing them. Although I assume small fish like sardines shouldn't be much of a problem, bones from bigger fish can potentially be dangerous.

When would swallowing a fish-bone be a problem? (e.g. can cause injury in any part of the digestive system) Would the stomach dissolve partially or completely some fish-bones?

Also, are there any differences in whether a kid or an adult swallowed it?

Note: If it can be generalized for other bones as well, let me know. (or simply edit the question)

  • Stomach acid will help to prevent problems by making the bone less sharp. Only a small amount from the exterior surface of the bone needs to dissolve to make it blunt. – Count Iblis Jan 21 '16 at 0:16
  • @CountIblis I don't think making it blunt would make it much less dangerous. Especially big bones like the one in the 2015 study i linked (image of bone during operation). – user Jan 21 '16 at 11:17
  • I agree, but then there is of course a gag reflex that would normally prevent one from swallowing bones that are too big. So, normally, the bones you can swallow are not going to be a problem; at least I would guess that half a billion years of fine tuning of the body plan via natural selection has led to a solution of the most obvious problems. – Count Iblis Jan 21 '16 at 16:51

Optimally, it passes into your stomach where it get dissolved by stomach acids. This is what happens in most cases.

Sub-optimally, it gets stuck in your throat and requires a doctor to remove it, surgically or otherwise.

Seriously sub-optimally, it get stuck in and pierces your throat, stomach, colon, or small intestine. This can lead to unpleasant things like pierced carotid artery or jugular vein, abscess at the point of puncture, pierced stomach or intestine with attendant infection, impaction, and various complications that need surgery to be fixed.


  • 1
    "into your stomach where it get dissolved" - Could you provide citation for that? – user Mar 24 '18 at 18:33

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