By Medicover Hospitals / 08 March 2022

Foreign bodies in the ear, relatively common in an emergency, are most often, but not exclusively, seen in children. Various objects can be found in the ear, including toys, beads, stones, folded paper, and biological materials such as insects or seeds. Most foreign objects in the ear and nose can be removed with minimal risk of complications. Common removal methods include the use of forceps, water irrigation, and a suction catheter.


Foreign Bodies in the Ear: Overview

  • Foreign objects in the ear are common reasons for emergency room visits, especially among children.
  • Most of these things are harmless.
  • Some are extremely uncomfortable, while others can quickly cause infection requiring emergency treatment.
  • If you are unsure of the potential for foreign body damage, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Most objects stuck in the ear canal are placed there by the person themselves. Children who are curious about their bodies and interesting objects are the group most often faced with this problem.
  • The most common things they put in their ears include:
  • Pearls
  • Food (especially seeds)
  • Paper
  • Q-tips
  • Rubber erasers
  • Small toys
  • Marbles
  • Small seashells
  • Ear wax: Earwax is a substance naturally present in the ear canal, but can become a problem when it builds up where it obstructs the ear canal and causes hearing loss or pain. Excessive use of cotton swabs such as Q-Tips to clean the ear can actually push wax and cellular debris from the skin further into the canal and press them against the eardrum, causing symptoms.
  • Insects: Insects can also fly or crawl in the ear canal. Usually, it happens by sleeping on the ground or outdoors. It is often a frightening and dramatic event because the buzzing and movements of the insect are very loud and sometimes painful.

Causes

Some objects placed in the ear may not cause signs. Other objects, such as food and bugs, can cause ear pain, hearing loss, redness, or drainage. Hearing can be affected if the object blocks the ear canal.


Diagnosis

Some objects placed in the ear may not cause signs. Other objects, such as food and bugs, can cause ear pain, hearing loss, redness, or drainage. Hearing can be affected if the object blocks the ear canal.


Treatment

Treatment of an object in the ear usually involves removing the object. The ease or difficulty of this process depends on where the object is in the body. If the item cannot be removed at home and medical attention is required, treatment may include the following:

  • A suction machine can remove the object from the nose or the ear.
  • Retractors can also remove an object.
  • Magnets can sometimes remove metal objects.

Sometimes surgery is necessary if other removal methods do not work. Further processing may involve dealing with any damage caused by the object.


When to see a Doctor?

Most objects that get lodged in the ear should prompt you to call a doctor. If this item is not causing any symptoms and the doctor's office is closed, an assessment can usually wait until the next morning.

Depending on your particular medical community, your doctor may want to see you in the office or refer you to a local emergency department or other specialists. Don't expect a healthcare professional to properly assess the situation over the phone. If you have a problem with a foreign object in the ear, have you physically examined it by a qualified healthcare professional.

  • Persistent pain, bleeding, or discharge from the ear may mean that the ear passages have not been completely cleared, that part of the object may remain inside the ear, or that an infection of the ear canal has developed. These infections respond well to antibiotic drops, but a test and a prescription are needed.
  • A foreign object in the ear can also damage the eardrum, which may or may not affect hearing. Since you cannot see the eardrum from the outside, an ear exam is recommended.

In most cases, the situation of having something in the ear will not be life-threatening. Usually, you will have time to call a doctor. The urgency of the situation depends mainly on the location of the object and the substance involved.

  • Button batteries commonly found in many small devices and toys can break down enough in the body to allow chemicals to escape and cause burns. Urgent withdrawal is advised.
  • Urgent disposal is also recommended for food or plant materials (such as seeds) as these swell when moistened.
  • An urgent examination is indicated if the object causes significant pain or discomfort, or if there is severe hearing loss or dizziness.

Prevention

Here are some important steps to take to keep the object in the ear:

  • Try to see if the object will fall just by tilting your child's head.
  • If you can see the object in the ear and think you can remove it easily, gently remove it with tweezers. Be careful not to push it any deeper, push the ear, or try to remove the object by force. The ear canal is very sensitive and it can be painful.
  • If it is a live insect, kill it before trying to remove it. Put a few drops of warm (not too hot oil) baby oil or vegetable oil in the ear. Have your child tilt and gently shake their head to dislodge the insect. Do not use this method for anything other than an insect, and do not use it if your child is in pain, the ear is bleeding, or has tubes in the ear.
  • If you are sure the eardrum is not injured and your child does not have an ear tube, try washing the object off with a little lukewarm water.

You should see your doctor immediately if you cannot easily extract the object on your own or if parts of it remain in the ear. You should also get medical help if you have pain, hearing loss, or discomfort after removing the item.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long can a foreign object stay in your ear?

A foreign object cannot fall out of your ear on its own. It can stay in your ear until you don't take it out or take it out. Small, inert foreign bodies, such as pearls, can stay in your ear for 1 to 2 weeks without causing complications.

2. How do you get something deep out of your ear?

Try to see if the object will fall just by tilting your child's head. If you can see the object in the ear and think you can remove it easily, gently remove it with tweezers. Be careful not to push it any deeper, push the ear out, or try to forcefully remove the object.

3. Is it safe to put oil in the ear?

The most effective home treatment is to place oil drops in the ear. Many household oils, such as mineral oil, baby oil, and even olive oil, can soften hard, impacted earwax.

Citations

Middle Ear Foreign Body: A Hearing Aid Complication
Ear foreign-body removal: A review of 98 consecutive cases
Ear and nose foreign body removal in children
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