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Foreign Object in the Ear: First Aid

  • Posted on- Aug 31, 2015
  • 357 Views

A foreign object in the ear is a common scenario encountered in day to day life. Children may put various small objects in ear while playing and may get stuck. Adults may face this situation while in an attempt to clear the ear of earwax or water using various objects. In both above categories small insects may crawl into the ear and will cause extremely uncomfortable situation due to its buzzing and movement in ear canal.

In most of the cases these foreign objects are not harmful and can be removed at house with proper first aid management. However, button batteries (may leak and cause severe chemical damage within hours), sharp objects, food and organic matter (may swell and get infected) can pose a serious threat and require urgent medical attention.

As the skin of ear canal is extremely sensitive, presentation is quite straightforward in adults due to pain or irritation. In case of small children who are unable to verbalize the pain, diagnosis can be quite challenging as child may present with excessive crying, irritability with redness and discharge from ear at later stages. Mostly the panic caused by the object/insect in the ear complicate the safe removal of it at first aid setting. Therefore, first aid training should focus on calming down the victim and attempt a safe removal of harmless and removable objects, while identifying serious conditions that require immediate medical attention.

Refer the patient to an ENT specialist if there is:

  • Severe and persistent pain
  • Redness and swelling of ear, ear canal and skin around ear
  • Fever
  • Button battery or organic object in ear
  • Drainage from ear
  • Hearing loss, dizziness or bleeding
  • Failure to safely remove the object

First aid for an object in ear
  1. 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.
  2. Remove the object if possible. If the object is clearly visible, pliable and can be grasped easily with tweezers, gently remove it.
  3. Try using gravity. Tilt the head to the affected side to try to dislodge the object.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.