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First Aid Guide: Dealing with Foreign Objects in the Ear

Team AckoJan 18, 2024

It can be excruciatingly unpleasant to have something stuck in your ear. It can also be harmful, causing hearing impairment, haemorrhage, infection, and even eardrum damage. The majority of objects become trapped in the ear canal, which is a tiny passageway that ends at the eardrum.

Since the ear canal is so delicate, you are usually able to identify anything in your ear. Most occurrences of foreign substances in the ear are not significant and may typically be removed. However, the object must be removed as fast as possible and with as little discomfort and threat as possible. In this article, we will discuss the process of rendering First Aid when a foreign object becomes trapped in the ear.




How do foreign objects get in the ear?

The most common things that can become lodged within a person's ear are as follows.

  • Tiny toys

  • Food (such as seeds and nuts)

  • Paper

  • Cotton buds to clean ear wax

  • Beads

  • Hearing aid pieces

  • Sharp objects

These items may be placed in the ear either unintentionally or on purpose.

Earwax is a substance that naturally occurs in the ear canal and can become an issue when it accumulates to the point of clogging the ear canal and causing hearing loss or pain. When cotton swabs, such as Q-tips, are used to clean the ear, they can push wax and skin cell debris deeper into the canal and compress it on the eardrum, creating discomfort.

Insects can fly or crawl inside the ear canal as well. This usually occurs while sleeping on the floor or outside (for example, while camping).

What are the symptoms of a foreign object in the ear?

The symptoms are mostly determined by its size, shape, and type of substance involved.

  • When anything gets stuck in the ear, the most typical symptoms are discomfort and pain.

  • If the exterior surfaces inside your ear are scratched or your eardrum is ruptured by an object, bleeding occurs.

  • Sudden hearing impairment or limited hearing.

  • If an insect remains stuck and is still alive within your ear, you may be able to feel its movements. If the bug bites or pierces the inside of your ear, you may experience acute pain.

  • If you have an ear infection, you may have fluid discharge.

  • In young children, redness, swelling, or discharge (blood, inflammatory fluid, or pus) and pain in the ear are the most common indicators of frequent scratching or rubbing of the ear.

  • If clogged earwax is the cause, you may feel pressure as well as a loss of hearing on the affected side. In severe cases, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or unsteady walking are caused by ear inflammation or a build-up of pressure on the eardrum, resulting in middle ear dysfunction.

What is the potential damage from foreign objects in the ear?

Although rare, possible damage can affect the functions of the ear if the foreign object in the ear is not extracted quickly.

  • Ruptured eardrum: When a sharp object hits your eardrum, it can tear it. This may cause infection and result in a perforated eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can cause hearing loss and expose your ear and perhaps your brain to infections. However, there are drugs and medical treatments that can help repair your eardrum in just a few weeks.

  • Acute otitis media: If an object in the ear is not removed, it can lead to infection and discomfort in the middle ear. Children are more likely to develop acute otitis media. Antibiotics and other medications help in the treatment of acute otitis media.

  • Otitis externa: It is an infection or inflammation of the external ear canal caused by contaminated water, unclean piercings, or excessive ear cleaning. A fungal or bacterial infection can also lead to it. Antibiotic and steroid ear drops can help cure this issue.

First Aid for foreign objects in the ear

Follow these ear First Aid guidelines if a foreign object becomes trapped in the ear.

  • Use forceps: Take out the object with forceps if it is easily accessible. However, if the object is extremely deep, it is advisable to wait for a specialist to remove it.

  • Never prod or probe at the object: When you use cotton swabs or matchsticks to take an object out, it can press the object deeper into the ear. This could result in even more damage.

  • Use oil: If there is an insect trapped inside the ear, tilt the head so that the ear with the insect is facing up. Fill the ear with warm, but not hot, oil (mineral oil, olive oil, or baby oil). Pouring the oil into the ear would make the insect float to the surface, which can then be taken out easily by tilting the head. However, if you suspect an eardrum hole or have ear tubes in place, avoid using oil. 

  • If there is any fluid coming out: Allow it to easily flow down the ear. Ensure that the ear with the object inside has not been touched. Moving the ear frequently may result in more damage and pain in the ear. Do not attempt to remove any fluid from the inside of the ear as this may result in a more serious infection.

  • If there is bleeding in the ear: Apply clean tissue or gauze. Do not touch the bleeding ear with your bare hands.

  • Know when to seek help: See a doctor right away if you have bleeding, severe pain, discharge, or infection. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about first aid for foreign objects in the ear.


How do you treat a foreign object in the ear?

Common methods for removing foreign objects inside the ear may include the use of forceps, water irrigation, the use of oil to remove an insect, and sometimes a suction catheter. If your symptoms increase and become unbearable, see a doctor right away.

Is foreign object in the ear an emergency?

Foreign objects in the ear can become an emergency if you have bleeding, severe pain, discharge, or infection. If you have a swollen (inflamed) ear that is red and displaced outward, a fever, discharge, bleeding, or growing pain, visit the doctor immediately.

How do you remove a foreign object from a child's ear?

Long, thin tweezers or forceps may be inserted into the ear to grasp and remove an object. If the object is metal, magnets may be used to remove it. If there is an insect trapped inside the ear, water can be used to flush out the ear canal. A suction machine could be used to help suck the object out.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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