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Ear Foreign Body

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

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
  • Food, such as beans or seeds
  • Small toys, beads, or pieces of toys
  • Button batteries
  • Rocks or pebbles
  • Insects, such as cockroaches

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

  • Feeling like 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. He or she will look in your ear to check for tears or infection. Tell him or her if you tried to remove the object. Your provider may ask about your recent activities, such as camping or traveling. Your hearing may also be tested.

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 may be give to decrease pain, inflammation, or treat an infection.
  • A procedure may be needed to remove the foreign body. You may be given local numbing medicine or a sedative to keep you calm.
    • A small medical tool may be used to grasp the object and pull it out.
    • Suction with a small catheter is used to suck the object out. Suction is most often used when the object is round and smooth.
    • Glue is applied to a small stick, such as a cotton swab cut at one end. The stick is inserted into your ear and sticks to the object so it can be pulled out.
    • Irrigation is when a small catheter is used to flush the object out.
    • Chemicals , such as hydrogen peroxide or acetone, may be used to remove gum or superglue.
    • Liquids , such as 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.
    • A balloon catheter is when a small rubber catheter 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.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have severe ear pain.
  • You have pus or blood draining from your ear.
  • You have a fever or chills.
  • You have trouble hearing, or you have ringing in your ears.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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