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Having a foreign object in the ear can be an uncomfortable and painful experience. It can also be dangerous if the object is not removed carefully and promptly. In many cases, removing an object from the ear is a simple procedure that can be handled by a non-professional, though at times, individuals may require medical assistance.

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Objects That Get Lodged in the Ear

It is not unusual for adults to clean their ears with a cotton swab, even though most physicians recommend against this practice. Occasionally, the swab’s cotton tip falls off inside the ear, where it lodges. Children may insert beads, marbles, pebbles, crayons, erasers, and even tiny toys such as doll shoes into their ears for a variety of reasons. Although it is not a common occurrence, insects such as cockroaches and flies fly or crawl into the ear when individuals are outdoors or sleeping on the floor, which can be quite serious.

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Symptoms

An object in the ear may cause itching or pain. If it is an insect, scratching sounds can be quite loud, especially if the bug is burrowing deeper into the ear canal. Objects that are pushing against the eardrum can cause severe pain. In more serious cases, bleeding or a milky discharge indicates an infection. A parent may notice a young child pull at his or her ear, or push a finger inside the ear canal to try and relieve the itching.

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Removing the Object

Gravity is the easiest method for removing objects from the ear. Tilt the head to the side to see if the item falls out. If the object is visible, it may be carefully removed using tweezers, though if there is any concern, the individual should see a doctor. You can also try and remove the object by flushing the ear with warm water using a rubber bulb syringe. If an insect is in the ear, try flushing with warm oil. However, if there are signs of eardrum perforation, such as bleeding, or if the person has tubes in the ears, do not flush with water or oil. Instead, seek immediate medical attention.

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Potential Damage

Objects in the ear should be removed as soon as possible, although they seldom cause any permanent damage. The object may even fall out on its own. Foods a child might place in his or her ear, such as popcorn or beans, tend to expand in the ear’s moist environment, which might make removal more difficult. If pieces are left behind, they can cause infection or, in more severe cases, loss of hearing. Rigid instruments should not be used to remove objects from the ear because there is a possibility of abrasion.

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When to Seek Medical Attention

If the object inside the ear is a button cell battery, it is imperative to seek the advice of a physician as soon as possible. Moisture inside the ear canal can cause the battery to leak harmful chemicals in as little as an hour, and cause scarring in less than four hours. Also, if there is bleeding, dizziness, moderate to severe pain, sudden hearing loss, or if the object has been in the ear for more than 24 hours, medical attention should be sought to prevent permanent damage.

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Insect Removal

Do not attempt to remove an insect from the ear if it is alive. It may try to escape by digging its way deeper into the ear canal. Use warm mineral oil, baby oil, or olive oil to float the insect out of the ear instead of pulling it out with tweezers or another instrument. Leaning the head to the side and wiggling the earlobe may allow the bug to fall out on its own. Follow up with a physician to ensure the bug came out in its entirety.

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Removing Objects From the Ears of Young Children

Children are curious, and it is not unusual for them to stick objects in their ears or up their noses. The most difficult part of removing a foreign object from a child's ear is keeping him or her still so the procedure can be safely carried out. Some children may require head restraints. They are usually scared, and some may even be in a state of panic, especially if they feel the objects moving. A doctor may be better equipped to remove the foreign object. Suction is common and sometimes requires sedation.

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Ear Canal Anatomy

The ear canal is a tube of solid bone. The skin lining the ear canal is smooth and highly sensitive. The tympanic membrane, a circular layer of tissue in the ear canal, marks the spot between the external ear and the middle ear. This membrane is also known as the eardrum and is key to hearing. The eardrum is tough and flexible, making it difficult to damage, but objects inserted into the ear can perforate it, causing hearing loss.

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Treatment of the Ear Following Object Removal

In most cases, people require no follow up medical treatment for easily removed objects. If a physician removed the object, the individual could be placed on antibiotics to prevent infection. These antibiotics are usually administered directly into the ear in the form of drops. Analgesics can relieve any lingering discomfort. It is not unusual for there to be a small amount of bleeding associated with the removal of objects from the ear. Most doctors recommend a follow-up appointment two or three days after the removal, and generally advise people to avoid swimming or allowing water in ear canal for some time afterward.

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Remove Items Quickly

Removing the object quickly is key to preventing infection or damage. The longer the object stays in the ear, the harder it is to remove. If the object is glass, do not attempt to remove it. Instead, consult a physician to ensure no shards are left behind in the ear. Pain, bleeding, or foul-smelling discharge from the ear after the removal of a foreign object could indicate a developing infection, and these people should return to the doctor immediately.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.