Ear foreign body

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Ear foreign body
Other names: Foreign object in the ear, external auditory canal foreign body
In red is the typical location of a foreign body in the ear
SpecialtyENT surgery
SymptomsNone, ear pain, ear discharge, decreased hearing[1]
ComplicationsBleeding, skin breakdown, eardrum perforation[1]
Diagnostic methodExamination[1]
TreatmentPain management, removal, antibiotics[2]
FrequencyRelatively common (children)[3]

Ear foreign body is a foreign body in the external ear canal.[2] Symptoms may vary from none to pain and discharge from the ear.[1] Hearing may be decreased.[1] Complications may include bleeding or skin breakdown.[1]

Objects found in the ear may include beads, cotton swabs, paper, sand, insects, and button batteries.[4][3] Foreign bodies usually become stuck at the narrowing between the cartilage of the pinna of the ear and the bones of the skull.[2] Diagnosis is generally by examination of the ear with an otoscope.[1]

Warmed 1 to 2% lidocaine liquid may be placed in the ear to help numb it before attempted removal.[1][2] Procedural sedation may also be used to facilitate the procedure.[1] A number of techniques may be used for the removal itself including suction, irrigation, and forceps.[1][4] Antibiotic ear drops may be used if their are signs of skin breakdown.[2] Complications of attempted removal may include eardrum perforation.[1]

Ear foreign bodies occur relatively commonly.[3] They occur most often in children and are the most common type of foreign body in this age group.[5][3] Descriptions of ear foreign bodies are found in Ancient literature, including the writing of Hippocrates around 400 BC.[6]


Attempts to irrigate out a foreign body should not be attempted for organic mater that could swell if wet, batteries, or if a eardrum perforation is suspected.[4]

Warmed mineral oil may work well to kill an insect in the ear, after which removal may be carried out.[4]

An operating otoscope with small alligator forceps can be another useful technique.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Oyama, LC (February 2019). "Foreign Bodies of the Ear, Nose and Throat". Emergency medicine clinics of North America. 37 (1): 121–130. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2018.09.009. PMID 30454775.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "PEM Playbook - Foreign Bodies in the Head and Neck". emDOCs.net - Emergency Medicine Education. 30 March 2018. Archived from the original on 24 November 2020. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lotterman, S; Sohal, M (January 2022). "Ear Foreign Body Removal". PMID 29083719. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "How To Remove a Foreign Body From the External Ear - Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders". Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Archived from the original on 30 October 2021. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  5. Heim, SW; Maughan, KL (15 October 2007). "Foreign bodies in the ear, nose, and throat". American family physician. 76 (8): 1185–9. PMID 17990843.
  6. The Journal of Ophthalmology, Otology, and Laryngology. 1915. p. 419. Archived from the original on 2022-05-10. Retrieved 2022-05-10.

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