Boy’s Mysterious Whistling Cough Turns Out to Be Swallowed Whistle

Doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, recently documented the strange case of a 4-year-old boy with a mysterious “squeaky cough”.

Writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Doctor Suresh C. Sharma reported that the boy’s parents had brought him to the otorhinolaryngology outpatient clinic after noticing something strange about his cough. For the past couple of days, their 4-year-old son made a squeaky, whistling-like sound whenever he coughed. He had had no history or symptoms of viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, and was in good health, but during the physical examination, doctors did notice an expiratory wheeze in the middle and lower left lung.

Photo: Killibupp/Wikimedia Commons

The boy’s parents told doctors that he had been playing with a small whistle before the weird cough set it, but the chest x-ray didn’t definitively reveal any foreign object. However, Dr. Sharma and his team noticed air trapping in expiratory radiographs, which did suggest the presence of a foreign object in the bronchus, as air could get in around the object, but could not be exhaled properly.

Given the likelihood of a foreign object being stuck in the young boy’s lungs, a rigid bronchoscopy was performed. And guess what? That little whistle that the boy’s parents mentioned was obstructing the left segmental bronchus, the airway that conducts air to the lungs.

The whistle was carefully retrieved and a subsuquent chest radiograph revealed that the hyperinflation of the left lung had been resolved.


Foreign object lodged in people’s airways are fairly common, but this case was considered exceptional due to the squeaky cough the inhaled whistle produced. For this reason, the case was published in the New England Journal of Medicine both as a cautionary tale for parents with young children, and as a talking point for medical professionals.

This case is very similar to one we reported about last year, when an 8-year-old Argentinian boy went viral for making a whistling sound every time he inhaled, after accidentally swallowing a whistling party toy.

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