Skip to Content

Ear Foreign Body


What is a foreign body in the ear?

An ear foreign body is an object that is stuck in your ear. Foreign bodies are usually trapped in the outer ear canal. This is the tube from the opening of your ear to your eardrum.

What are some common ear foreign bodies?

  • Tips of cotton swabs
  • Earplugs
  • Insects, such as cockroaches
  • Food, such as beans or seeds
  • Small toys or pieces of toys
  • Beads
  • Rocks or pebbles
  • Button batteries

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear foreign body?

  • The feeling that something is in your ear
  • Trouble hearing
  • Ear pain
  • Redness, itching, or bleeding in your ear
  • Thick drainage or a foul odor coming from your ear
  • Nausea or dizziness

How is an ear foreign body diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and if you have traveled or camped recently. Tell him if you tried to remove the object. Your healthcare provider will look into your ear with an otoscope. This is a tool with a light on it that he holds up to your ear. He will check your eardrum for tears or holes and look for infection. Your healthcare provider may also test your hearing.

How is an ear foreign body treated?

Treatment will depend on what kind of object is in your ear and how deep it is. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • Local anesthesia: This is medicine to numb your ear before healthcare providers try to remove the object.
    • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.
    • Steroid cream: This medicine helps decrease redness and swelling.
    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Removal procedures:
    • Irrigation: A small catheter is inserted into your ear, past the object. Water is squirted into your ear to flush the object out.
    • Tools: Tools, such as forceps or a loop, may be used to grasp the object and pull it out. A curved hook may also be used to scoop the object out of your ear.
    • Suction: A small catheter is used to suck out the object from your ear. Suction is most often used when the object is round and smooth.
    • Balloon catheter: A small rubber tube is inserted into your ear, past the object. The balloon at the end of the tube is filled with air. The balloon is pulled out of your ear and the object comes with it.
    • Glue: Glue is applied to a small stick, such as a cotton swab cut at one end. Your healthcare provider will insert the stick into your ear. The glue will stick to the object and your child's healthcare provider can pull the object out.
    • Chemicals: Hydrogen peroxide or acetone may be used to remove gum or styrofoam. These chemicals may also be used to melt superglue.
    • Liquids: Mineral oil, warm alcohol, or lidocaine may be used if the object is a live insect. These liquids will kill the insect so it can be removed.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery to remove a deep object or repair ear damage.

What are the risks of an ear foreign body?

Your ear canal or eardrum may be injured when the object is removed. You may develop an infection. The infection can spread to your inner ear and jaw. A life-threatening infection may develop if bacteria spread to your brain or spinal cord. Without removal, your symptoms may get worse. Your ear may become irritated or infected. Your eardrum may tear.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have trouble hearing, or you hear ringing.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe ear pain.
  • You have pus or blood draining from your ear.

Care Agreement

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. 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.

Further information

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

Learn more about Ear Foreign Body

Micromedex® Care Notes