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Toy Whistle Stuck In Airway Causes 4-Year-Old's 'Whistling Cough'

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What caused a young boy’s strange-sounding cough? Doctors found that a toy whistle lodged in his airway was responsible for the child’s squeaky coughing.

‘Whistling Cough’

What makes a cough sound strange? People’s coughs tend to depend on the kind of condition they have. However, a 4-year-old from India had a strange cough that made him sound rather like a squeaky toy.

His parents brought him to the doctors for a strange-sounding intermittent cough that had been going on for two days. He had no history of having a viral infection and he was feeling quite well apart from a cough.

Doctors noticed the wheezing in his middle and lower left lung upon physical examination and nothing more. However, X-rays revealed a hyperinflation of the boy’s left lung, a condition that occurs when air gets trapped in the lungs, causing them to overinflate.

In some cases, this is caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other lung conditions such as asthma or cystic fibrosis. It can also be caused by a blockage in the air passages, which interferes with the expulsion of air.

Accidental Inhalation

It was unclear whether there was a blockage in the boy’s airways. The air trapping, however, suggested the possibility that the boy may have a foreign body lodged in his airways.

As such, doctors performed a rigid bronchoscopy to check and possibly dislodge the “mysterious object” that turned out to be a toy whistle that was stuck in his left bronchus. Evidently, the boy accidentally inhaled the toy whistle when he was playing with it days prior.

X-rays taken the day after turned out to be normal, and the child was also in good condition during the one-year follow-up. His lung is said to be no longer whistling.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, his case is described as a “whistling cough” because of the whistling and squeaking characteristic.

Children’s Accidents

According to Dr. Pirabu Sakthivel of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, co-author of the report, having foreign objects in the airways are quite common, but they would have made wheezing sounds or caused noisy breathing. According to Sakthivel, the whistling sound made the boy’s case rather rare.

It is quite normal for children to be rather curious about the objects around them, which is why many parents are very wary of their children’s movements so as to avoid accidents.

In fact, a man from England was even mistakenly diagnosed with lung cancer because of a tiny toy traffic cone that accidentally entered his windpipe when he was 7 years old and had been in his lungs for 40 years.

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