Fitness
Fact Checked

Is It Possible to Get Food Stuck in Your Sinuses?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If you ever snorted with laughter while eating dinner, you may already know that it is possible to get food stuck in your sinuses. It certainly isn’t a pleasant topic to think about, but it does occasionally occur. The reason it’s possible to get food in your sinuses is because of the basic structure of the sinuses in relationship to your mouth.

When you have a cold, you may feel an irritated sensation in the back of your throat. This is often due to the fact that mucus produced in the sinuses drains into the opening of your throat via the nasal passages. Though it isn’t exactly common, when you inhale, cough or laugh while eating, you may actually access this passage and food can get sucked into the sinuses.

A child's natural curiosity can lead to objects up the nose.
A child's natural curiosity can lead to objects up the nose.

Often, there isn’t much cause for concern if you get food stuck in your sinuses, since you will usually immediately cough or snort and send the food right back out again. Another thing to try is a saline nasal rinse, which may help clear the food. If you’re not seeing the food emerge pretty quickly, however, you do need to see a healthcare professional. Food that stays in your sinuses can cause pretty nasty infections if not removed.

A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.

Children can get food stuck in their sinuses in a different way. Kids are inherently curious about their nostrils, and seem to have a natural impulse to want to fill these holes with a variety of objects. This could include food, small toys, crayons, and a lot of other things; children are unfortunately greatly imaginative when it comes to things they will put up their nose. Parents may not be in the know when it comes to these activities, but can look for signs that a child may have put a foreign body in his or her nose.

Frequent sneezing or coughing are good indicators that an object or piece of food may be lodged in someone's nasal cavity.
Frequent sneezing or coughing are good indicators that an object or piece of food may be lodged in someone's nasal cavity.

You may see, for instance, some nose bleeding, and the sinuses may be draining pretty consistently. A child’s nose may be stuffy, and she or he may be coughing and sneezing. Occasionally, if objects have been allowed to sit in the sinuses, you may note an unusual rotting or sweet smell when you sniff near the child’s face. If you suspect that natural curiosity may have gotten the better of common sense, it’s a good idea to take the child to a medical professional who can look at the nasal passages and the sinuses and see if there are any foreign bodies trapped there.

Why Does Food Get Stuck in Your Sinuses?

Food that stays in the sinuses may cause nasty infections if not removed.
Food that stays in the sinuses may cause nasty infections if not removed.

When you swallow, the food should travel down your throat before entering your stomach. But for some people, food gets stuck in the back of their throats. Others deal with food entering the nose. This condition is nasal regurgitation. It can happen randomly due to the force of swallowing, or it might happen if you have a cold.

People with weak throat muscles can experience nasal regurgitation. Their throats don’t have the strength to transfer food from the mouth to the stomach. As a result, the food can flow up into the nose instead. You should closely watch those who experience nasal regurgitation so they don’t choke or gag while eating.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another condition that can cause food to get stuck in your sinuses. It’s a type of acid reflux that causes the contents of your stomach to flow up your esophagus and into your throat and nose.

Coughing while eating may cause food to get stuck in a person's sinuses.
Coughing while eating may cause food to get stuck in a person's sinuses.

Getting food stuck in your sinuses isn’t always a sign of a severe condition. Eating or drinking too quickly can cause food and liquid to travel up your sinuses. Laughing opens your throat and sends fluid into your open nasal passages. It can stop there or shoot out of your nostrils. The results depend on the force of your laughter and how much you drank.

How Do You Get Stuck Food Out of Your Sinuses?

Some nose bleeding is possible when getting food stuck in your sinuses.
Some nose bleeding is possible when getting food stuck in your sinuses.

Depending on how it got in your sinuses, there are different ways to get food out. If someone puts food in their nose through their nostrils, you can try to remove it the same way. Tilt their head back slightly and have them breathe through their mouth so air doesn’t pass through the nasal cavity and move the food.

For larger items, you might be able to use your fingers to extract the food. With smaller pieces, you can use tweezers. If you feel resistance when trying to remove the item, don’t keep pulling on it. It might break apart and cause more damage.

You can try to close off the clear nostril to get more access to the clogged side. If you feel food stuck in your sinuses, you can try clearing it yourself by blowing your nose or swallowing it back down.

You should call the doctor anytime food is stuck too far in the sinuses to see naturally or reach with tweezers. Inserting other items into the nasal passages can push the food further into your nose. In some cases, it can cause even more internal damage. 

You should never use a cotton swab to remove food because it will only push the item around. Tweezers can grab the item and pull it out, but a cotton swab can’t do that. Besides tweezers, you shouldn’t insert any other tool or object into the nose.

What Happens When Food Is Stuck in Your Sinuses?

If you have food stuck in your sinuses, you might feel discomfort. Your sinuses are usually clear, so a blockage might make you feel congested or give you a headache. You’ll most likely have trouble breathing through the clogged nostril, and over time it can become more painful.

Depending on the object, you could experience nasal discharge. In some cases, this discharge is your nose trying to force the object out on its own. The mucus can lubricate the item and help it ease out of your nose. But sometimes the discharge is bloody, which can cause alarm.

When you can’t blow out the food or gently use tweezers to remove it, you need to contact a medical professional. They have different tools, like a small vacuum that can suck out objects tweezers can’t reach.

Even if you’re able to remove the food item yourself, you might experience bleeding. It can be normal, and you can treat it as you would a standard bloody nose. Apply gentle pressure to stop the bleeding. If it bleeds steadily for more than three minutes, you should call the doctor.


You might not notice something stuck in your sinuses if it’s a small food item. It can remain lodged there without bothering you too much. But that situation can lead to an infection, like streptococcus or staphylococcus. You should always be aware of any food or drinks that have washed into your nasal cavity.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

OeKc05

@lighth0se33 – I wish my cousin and I had observed that rule! I laughed so hard at something she did while we were eating fish sticks once that I got some sharp crumbs lodged in my sinuses.

I could feel them in that spot between the back of my nose and my throat. I tried sniffing and reverse snorting for hours, but they would not budge!

I coughed often and blew my nose as hard as I could, but the crumbs weren't going anywhere. I continued to snort air up from my throat to my nose, and after about five hours of this, the crumbs finally fell back into my throat.

It was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever endured. Sometimes, it is so hard to keep from laughing while eating, so I think your rule is a great one to follow!

lighth0se33

My friends and I have a “no humor” rule while we are eating. We have all had bad experiences with laughing while eating, ranging from getting food stuck in our throats to snorting it up into our noses.

We won't watch funny TV shows or tell jokes while eating together. We try to remain as somber as possible to prevent the pain of getting food lodged where it doesn't belong.

seag47

@Kristee – This happened to my little brother once. My mother was able to reach up into his nose with some flat tweezers and retrieve the pea.

Tweezers are good, because they allow you to grab the object. You should never just poke something in there in hopes of pushing it out, though, because it might go down into his lungs!

If he still seems to have congested sinuses or has a nosebleed long after you have gotten the pea out, you need to take him to a doctor. Part of the pea may have remained in his nose and caused an infection.

Kristee

I babysit my nephew often, and I'm always scared he is going to stick something up his nose. I'm especially scared when we eat peas and carrots for dinner, since the peas are small enough to fit up there.

What should I do if he does stick a pea up his nose? Is there a safe way to get it out without having to go to the doctor? I'd rather take care of it myself so that my sister won't have to find out about it.

Alchemy

The article mentioned that kids try to stick things up their noses. I think my daughter has reached this stage.

It started with her pointing to her nose and finger, but slowly progressed to her sticking her fingers in her nose and ears. Now she is using anything she can to try to poke around in her nose or ears.

I guess it is curiosity, but I can't really understand the intrigue. She is a little better about it now, but I still have to watch her with things that are long and slender.

A recent example comes to mind. I was working on my schoolwork one day. I wasn't paying attention for maybe two or three minutes, but as soon as I looked up, she was sticking a French fry up her nose. She sneezed out mashed potato for about the next five or ten minutes.

Amphibious54

I have had spicy foods become stuck in my sinuses and it is no fun. I love spicy foods, but occasionally I sneeze and end up with hot pepper sauce or something similar in my sinus cavity.

The best remedy for food in the sinuses, especially when the food is spicy, is a good rinse with a neti pot.

Neti pots are little plastic or porcelain teakettles used to flush sinus cavities with a warm saline solution. There is no better remedy for burning sinuses.

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    • A child's natural curiosity can lead to objects up the nose.
      By: Köpenicker
      A child's natural curiosity can lead to objects up the nose.
    • A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
      By: turhanerbas
      A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
    • Frequent sneezing or coughing are good indicators that an object or piece of food may be lodged in someone's nasal cavity.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      Frequent sneezing or coughing are good indicators that an object or piece of food may be lodged in someone's nasal cavity.
    • Food that stays in the sinuses may cause nasty infections if not removed.
      By: 12_tribes
      Food that stays in the sinuses may cause nasty infections if not removed.
    • Coughing while eating may cause food to get stuck in a person's sinuses.
      By: mbt_studio
      Coughing while eating may cause food to get stuck in a person's sinuses.
    • Some nose bleeding is possible when getting food stuck in your sinuses.
      By: britta60
      Some nose bleeding is possible when getting food stuck in your sinuses.