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Ear Foreign Body


  • An ear foreign body is anything that gets stuck in your ear canal other than earwax. This may include food, toy pieces, beads, buttons, disk batteries, cotton swab, paper, or insects. Foreign bodies are usually trapped in the outer ear canal. The outer ear canal, or external auditory canal, is the tube from the opening of your ear to the eardrum. You may have pain or fullness in the ear, or trouble hearing if the ear canal is blocked. Blood or thick discharge (drainage) may come out from the affected ear. If the foreign body is an insect, you may feel movement or hear buzzing.
    Picture of a normal ear
  • Diagnosis of ear foreign body may include a detailed health history and careful checking of the ear. Removal of the foreign body from the ear is the main goal of treatment. This may be done using gentle flushing of the ear canal with warm water, suction, or instruments. Live insects are usually killed with a liquid before being removed. Surgery may be needed to remove a deep foreign body or treat ear damage. With treatment, the foreign body will be removed from the ear, and more serious problems can be prevented.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


Removal of an ear foreign body may cause unpleasant effects. The ear canal may be scraped and scratched or the eardrum may be injured. Surgery has a risk of bleeding and infection. You may have an allergy to anesthesia or other medicines. An ear foreign body left untreated may make your symptoms worse. If the foreign body is not removed, it may cause an infection, irritation, or further ear damage. Removing it by yourself may push the object deeper into the canal and lead to more serious problems. Ask your caregiver if you have questions about your condition and its treatment.


Informed consent:

A consent form is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


You may be given the following medicines:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Medicines to treat pain, swelling, or fever: These medicines are safe for most people to use. However, they can cause serious problems when used by people with certain medical conditions. Tell caregivers if you have liver or kidney disease or a history of bleeding in your stomach.
  • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.


Imaging tests may be done in cases where other problems caused by the foreign body may be present. You may need the following:

  • Computerized tomography scan: This test is also called a CT or CAT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your ears. This helps caregivers check for problems of infection or injury as a result of ear canal foreign objects.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging: This test is also called an MRI. It uses magnetic waves to look at your ear. This may show injuries of the ear canal. You will need to lie still during an MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. This can cause serious injury.

Treatment options:

Removal of the foreign body may be done using any of the following:

  • Instruments: Forceps (grasper), hook, or curette (scraper) may be used to remove the foreign body.
  • Irrigation: Water that is close to the body temperature is used to force the object out of the canal. Irrigation cannot be used to take out batteries or objects which may expand when they get wet, such as seeds. This procedure also cannot be used on people with an ear drum tear.
  • Suction: A machine that sucks out the object from the ear canal may be used to remove small objects. This procedure uses a small plastic catheter (tube) that goes in the ear and is connected to the machine.
  • Chemicals: Hydrogen peroxide or acetone may be used to melt dried glue. Acetone may also be used to remove gum or styrofoam.
  • Glue: Your caregiver may use a stick with glue on the end to take out the foreign body. This is done by touching the foreign body with the stick and pulling them out when the glue dries. This may not be done in patients who cannot sit still during the procedure.
  • Other: Liquid, such as mineral oil, may be used if the foreign body is a live insect. This is put in the ear to kill the insect first before taking it out. Once the insect is no longer moving, it is taken out whole or in pieces using instruments.
  • Surgery: You may need to have surgery if the foreign body is very deep. Surgery may also be done to treat ear damage caused by the foreign body. In some cases, foreign body removal may need to be done under general anesthesia. General anesthesia is medicine that makes you completely asleep and free from pain during the procedure. Ask your caregiver for information about removal of an ear foreign body using surgery.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Ear Foreign Body (Inpatient Care)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.