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Lung cancer diagnosis proves to be toy inhaled decades earlier

When a 47-year-old man suffering from respiratory problems—excessive mucous and unmanageable coughing—sought medical treatment recently, doctors performed an X-ray revealing a black mass in his lung. They drew the most obvious conclusion from the results: a tumor.

However, further examination led to an unexpected discovery: it was actually a miniature traffic cone—part of a Playmobil set—which the man had inhaled as a young boy in 1977. Interestingly, the patient wasn’t particularly surprised by this discovery. He recalled regularly swallowing small toy objects as a child, and suspected he probably also stuck them up his nose. Doctors removed the cone, and the man’s symptoms dissipated soon after.

Many of us are familiar with the choking hazards of small objects on children. We’re cautioned against letting a small child handle anything smaller than a silver dollar, out of fear they might put it in their mouths and block their air passages.

However, the inhalation of small objects is an equally common risk in small children. And in some cases, objects taken in through the nasal passages can go undetected for years. According to the report, young lungs are able to adapt to foreign objects more easily than adult lungs. In this case, the mucous lining absorbed the toy cone and carried on as normal for decades.

Nonetheless, one should not assume that sticking an object up one’s nose is a somehow safer endeavor than swallowing it. Inhaled objects can cause infection and inflammation, and they have the potential to lead to serious injuries in children.

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