Who knew Playmobil could be so dangerous? A 47-year-old man from Preston must have been extremely relieved to find out that the source of his chesty cough was not lung cancer, but a tiny toy traffic cone inhaled 40 years earlier.
Doctors referred the man to a respiratory clinic when he came to them with a cough he hadn't been able to shake for over a year.
Because he was a long-term smoker and had only recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia, medics thought his symptoms were probably the result of a tumor in the lung.
Scans did reveal a mass in the lung, but it was not until medics removed the cone during a flexible bronchoscopy that they realized it was a Playmobil traffic cone and nothing more sinister.
According to a report in the British Medical Journal, the man admitted to regularly playing with – and, in some cases, swallowing – pieces of Playmobil as a child.
“He recalled being given this Playmobil set for his seventh birthday and believes he aspirated the toy traffic cone soon after,” the report says.
The doctors were surprised that the toy had gone undetected for 40 years, with the patient having no idea there was a small piece of plastic lodged in his lung. It wasn't until he began coughing up mucus and feeling generally unwell roughly 39 years later that he noticed any side effects.
While it is common for children to inhale and swallow small toy pieces, the report adds, the decades-long time-lag between inhalation and the onset of symptoms is extremely unusual.
"To our knowledge this is the first case of a TFB [Tracheobronchial foreign body] that was overlooked this length of time," the report explains.
This could be because the patient was so young when it happened. The report describes how the airways could have remodeled itself as it adapted to the toy. They think the cone could have been absorbed into the lung's lining when he was still a child, with the lining then developing around the toy.
But the good news is the man is now healthy and, four months on, his cough has all but disappeared.