It is actually a common occurrence for young children, especially toddlers, to insert foreign objects in their ear. Most of the time, these items are stuck in the ear canal, the small canal that finishes at the eardrum. One can usually tell if a foreign object is lodged in the ear due to the increased sensitivity of the ear canal. Majority of these cases do not pose serious threat to health, however, it is still essential to completely remove the lodged object, preferably a medical professional to avoid any complications, such as damage to the eardrums. Frequently these foreign objects include toys, beads, food material and insects.
Causes of Foreign Object in the Ear
These foreign objects can be either voluntarily or involuntarily lodged in the ear.
- Voluntary (more common)
- Toddler placing foreign object inside own ear or another child’s out of curiosity
- Insects crawling into the ear canal while asleep
How Foreign Object Affects the Ear
The effects on the ear will vary depending on the object that penetrates the ear canal. Some objects may cause more damage than the others
- Earwax (cerumen)
- Not technically foreign object as produced by ear
- Discomfort to ear and decreased hearing
- Small objects or insects
- Minimal symptoms
- Discomfort to the ear
- May dislodge on its own within the next 24 hours
- Food items
- When moist, dry food may expand
- Seeds (peas, beans or popcorn) may swell from moistness thus harder to remove
- Tip or piece of cotton
- Not much discomfort
- Disc batteries
- Highly dangerous and should be removed immediately
- May discharge chemicals, such as alkali, due to moistness which can lead to burns and scarring
Symptoms of Foreign Object in the Ear
Because the ear canal is highly sensitive, most people can tell if there is a foreign object in the ear. Symptoms will vary depending on the size, shape and substance lodged.
- Pain or discomfort in the ear (most common symptom)
- Decreased hearing or complete hearing loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- For insects, buzzing sound and uncomfortable
- If there is an infection, infectious drainage may come from the ear
How to Remove Foreign Object in the Ear
Although not a medical emergency, it is better to urgently remove the foreign object. It will be harder to dislodge the object the longer it is left inside the ear. Moreover, if left longer, it may develop an infection. If an object becomes stuck in the ear, follow these steps:
- Do not try to dislodge the foreign object by examining with tools such as matchsticks, cotton, or other tools. This may lead to pushing the object further inside and even cause damage to the eardrum.
- If possible, attempt to remove the object using tweezers. If not possible, turn the head to the damaged side to try to remove the object using gravity.
- If the foreign object is an insect, turn the side of the head with the insect upward.
- Pour warm mineral oil or olive oil or baby oil into the ear. Make sure that the ear canal is straight.
- For children, pull the earlobe backward and downward. For adults, pull earlobe backward and upward.
- This method should only be done for insects.
Foreign objects in the ear may lead to permanent hearing loss, especially if not treated early. Through basic first aid, preferably taught in first aid courses, foreign objects in the ear, or anywhere in the body, can be removed properly, avoiding any complications.