A foreign object in the ear can cause pain and hearing loss. Usually you know if an object is stuck in your ear, but small children may not be aware of it.
If an object becomes lodged in the ear, follow these steps:
- Don't probe the ear with a tool. Don't attempt to remove the foreign object by probing with a cotton swab, matchstick or any other tool. To do so risks pushing the object farther into the ear and damaging the fragile structures of the middle ear.
- Remove the object if possible. If the object is clearly visible, pliable and can be grasped easily with tweezers, gently remove it.
- Try using gravity. Tilt the head to the affected side to try to dislodge the object.
- Try using oil for an insect. If the foreign object is an insect, tilt the person's head so that the ear with the offending insect is upward. Try to float the insect out by pouring mineral oil, olive oil or baby oil into the ear. The oil should be warm but not hot. As you pour the oil, you can ease the entry of the oil by straightening the ear canal. Pull the earlobe gently backward and upward for an adult, backward and downward for a child. The insect should suffocate and float out in the oil bath. Don't use oil to remove any object other than an insect. Don't use this method for a child if ear tubes are in place or if you think the eardrum may be perforated. Signs of this are pain, bleeding or discharge from the ear.
- Try washing the object out. Use a bulb ear syringe and warm water to irrigate the object out of the canal, again provided no ear tubes are in place and you don't suspect the eardrum is perforated.
If these methods fail or the person continues to experience pain in the ear, reduced hearing or a sensation of something lodged in the ear, seek medical assistance.
Sept. 19, 2014
- Foreign bodies in nose or ears. American Academy of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/EmergencyManual/WhatToDoInMedicalEmergency/Default.aspx?id=246. Accessed Aug. 5, 2014.
- External ear obstructions. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear_nose_and_throat_disorders/external_ear_disorders/external_ear_obstructions.html?qt=Obstructions&alt=sh. Accessed Aug. 5, 2014.
- Isaacson GC, et al. Diagnosis and management of foreign bodies of the outer ear. http://www.uptodate.com.home. Accessed Aug. 5, 2014.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=40. Accessed Aug. 8, 2014.
- Hoecker J (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 8, 2014.