Foreign bodies in the ear are common medical emergencies. They occur most often in small children who lodge parts of toys or small objects they find around the house in their ears. Although most cases are not serious, the object should be removed as soon as possible with the least amount of discomfort and danger since the ear canal is quite sensitive.

What are the symptoms associated with a foreign body in the ear?

The symptoms of having a foreign body in the ear greatly depend on the size, shape and substance involved. The object may go about undetected until an ongoing infection is noticed. Other symptoms may include ear pain, irritation, itching, fever, decreased hearing, foul odor and bleeding (if the object is infected or sharp). In cases involving an insect that has lodged into the ear, pouring mineral oil into the affected ear usually kills the insect before it has a chance to do further damage. The urgency of the situation primarily depends on the location of the object and the substance involved. Though most ear situations are not life-threatening, seeking immediate medical care is advised to diagnose the problem, ease symptoms and prevent further complications from occurring.

What to do

In cases involving a foreign object in the ear, the first thing to do is tilt the head to the side in order for the object to free itself and fall. Most often, this maneuver has proven effective to resolving the situation, though more severe cases tend to involve going to the emergency room.

A few methods on how to effectively remove foreign bodies from the ear include the following:

  • Use water irrigation to attempt to flush out the foreign body
  • Use mineral oil (in cases involving a live insect lodged in the patient’s ear) to kill the insect
  • Use an ear curette or wire loop to role or slide the foreign body out of the ear
  • Use alligator forceps for grasping soft objects such as cotton or paper out of the ear
  • Use metal suction or other flexible tips to suction out the foreign body
  • Surgery may be recommended if the foreign body is deep within the ear canal or to treat damage caused by the foreign body

What not to do

Instructions on what not to do to remove foreign objects from the ear include the following:

  • Avoid trying to remove the object with hands or other tools
  • Avoid attempting to remove a large bug or insect without killing it first (more likely to damage the ear canal)
  • Avoid attempting to irrigate a bean or seed from the ear canal (the water can cause the bean to swell)

The main reason to avoid putting anything into the ear is that it usually results in pushing the object further into the ear canal, worsening the situation. This not only causes damage to the eardrum but also injury to nearby ear structures. The use of inappropriate tools can make removing the object even more difficult, in turn causing severe symptoms such as pain and bleeding. It is best to seek medical care from a doctor who can view the object with proper lighting and tools, as well as determine the most appropriate form of treatment.


Disclaimer: The information in this article does not in any way replace the intervention or signs associated with this type of emergency, but rather only provides simple tips as how to keep the situation under control while waiting for a medical rescue team to arrive.