The tiny cone, from a Playmobil set, had been lodged in the man’s lung for 40 years / BMJ Case Reports

WHEN doctors examined an ex-smoker with a racking cough, their initial thought was that he could have lung cancer.

Tests at first appeared to confirm their fears – until they inserted a tiny camera to look at the suspected tumour.

What they had believed was a malignant growth turned out to be a toy plastic traffic cone.

The tiny cone, from a Playmobil set, had been lodged in the man’s lung for 40 years.

Yet the patient, a 47-year-old handyman, had suffered no ill effects until developing a persistent cough a year earlier. The man, who has not been named, revealed that he had been given a Playmobil toy set for his seventh birthday and must have inhaled the cone soon afterwards.

Doctors from Royal Preston Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester were so intrigued that they have written about it in the journal BMJ Case Reports, saying they believe it was the first case of a foreign body being lodged undetected in the airways for so long.

The patient, a former smoker, had been referred after complaining of the cough. A chest X-ray showed what doctors thought was a tumour. A more detailed CT scan showed ‘patchy dense consolidation’, which appeared to support the cancer diagnosis.

Specialists arranged an urgent bronchoscopy, in which a thin wire with a camera on the end is put through the nose or mouth and down into the lung. They were amazed by what they found.

‘A foreign body... was identified and was successfully removed with biopsy forceps,’ the doctors write. ‘On closer inspection, this turned out to be a traffic cone from a Playmobil set.’

The man, whose symptoms quickly eased, shed light on the mystery. ‘Following the procedure, the patient reported that he regularly played with and even swallowed pieces of Playmobil during his childhood,’ the doctors write.

‘He recalled being given this Playmobil set for his seventh birthday and believes he aspirated the toy traffic cone soon after.’

The researchers said it was likely he went symptomless for so long because of the age at which he inhaled the cone. As he grew older, his airways would have moulded round the foreign body.

It is common for young children to aspirate a toy, say experts, but the problem is usually spotted very quickly as it causes breathing problems. It most often happens in toddlers under three.

Usually children swallow items instead of inhaling them. These pass through the body naturally, although thin, sharp objects can cause internal injury.

© Daily Mail