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First Aid for Swallowing Dirt

Last updated March 1, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Swallowing or eating dirt is common in children. It is estimated that 1 in 5 children eat or swallow dirt (soil or mud) occasionally.

What is Swallowing Dirt?

  • Swallowing or eating dirt is common in children. It is estimated that 1 in 5 children eat or swallow dirt (soil or mud) occasionally
  • Dirt may contain several chemicals and compounds including organic waste (plant matter), fertilizers and insecticides, urine and feces of animals, and many pathogens and parasites

What are the Causes of Swallowing Dirt?

  • Children between the ages of 1 and 3 are generally known to swallow or eat dirt, as it is part of their normal exploratory (biological) development
  • Having a disorder called pica may be a reason why some individuals eat dirt

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Swallowing Dirt?

The signs and symptoms of Swallowing Dirt may include gastrointestinal problems such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal or stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • If large quantiles are consumed, then it may result in intestinal obstruction and constipation

How is First Aid administered for Swallowing Dirt?

First Aid tips for Swallowing Dirt:

  • If necessary, call 911 or your local emergency help number, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Take the individual/child to emergency room (ER) for further treatment, if required
  • Always try to take the substance consumed (dirt/mud/soil) to the ER

Generally, Swallowing Dirt is a non-serious condition. With appropriate and adequate home care, the child can recover completely, without any severe symptoms being noted. 

In case of severe symptoms, emergency health care may be required. The emergency medical professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Swallowing Dirt?

Someone near the affected individual (a caretaker or parent of the child) should administer initial first aid, following which one should seek medical help.

What is the Prognosis of Swallowing Dirt?

  • In most cases, with proper first aid treatment (when required), the outcome of Swallowing Dirt is good, and most children make a full recovery
  • However, the prognosis may also be dependent on the amount of dirt consumed, its contents or contaminants, and the severity of presenting symptoms

How can Swallowing Dirt be Prevented?

Swallowing Dirt can be prevented by:

  • Supervising young children while they play outdoors or in the mud
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • DO NOT induce vomiting unless instructed by a healthcare personnel
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommended steps

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 2, 2017
Last updated: March 1, 2018