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3.05 Foreign Body in Ear


Sometimes a young child admits to putting something like a bead or a bean in his ear, or an adult witnesses the act. Sometimes the history is hidden and the child simply presents with a purulent discharge, pain, bleeding or hearing loss. Most dramatically, a patient arrives at the emergency department panic-stricken because he feels and hears a bug crawling around in his ear.

What to do:

What not to do:


The cutaneous lining of the bony canal of the ear is very sensitive and is not much affected by topical anesthetics. If your patient is an uncooperative child, you might make one cautious attempt at removal under conscious sedation (see below) with firm head restraint, but your most prudent strategy is to schedule elective removal under general anesthesia by a specialist.

Irrigation techniques and the use of the ear curette can also be effective in removing excess cerumen from an ear canal (see above). Whenever an instrument is used in an ear canal it is a good idea to warn the patient or parents beforehand that there may be a small amount of bleeding.

There should be no delay in removing an external auditory canal foreign body when there is an obvious infection or when the foreign body is a disk batters. On contact with most tissue, this type of alkaline battery is capable of producing a liquefactive necrosis extending into deep tissues. After removal, the canal should be irrigated to remove alkalai residue. Styrofoam beads can be instantly dissolved by spraying them with a small amount of ethyl chloride. Lidocaine has been shown to make cockroaches exit the ear canal, but this may be unpleasant for the patient. On telephone consultation, patients can be instructed to use cooking or baby oil to kill an intra-aural insect, which can then be removed in a subsequent office visit.

Complications of foreign body removal include trauma to the skin of the canal, canal hematoma, otitis externa, tympanic membrane perforations, ossicular dislocations and facial nerve palsy.


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from Buttaravoli & Stair: COMMON SIMPLE EMERGENCIES
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Craig Feied, MD
Mark Smith, MD
Jon Handler, MD
Michael Gillam, MD