The removal of foreign objects from the ear is always a common medical procedure in the emergency department. In simple terms, foreign bodies may be defined as any object that finds its way into your ear but is not meant to be there and could potentially cause damage without immediate medical attention.

From my personal experience, and based on the patients that I have attended to, foreign objects in the ear usually stay either in the ear canal or in the ear lobe. Whereas some of these foreign objects are harmless, some of them can be extremely uncomfortable including sharp objects and insects and can quickly result in an infection requiring emergency treatment. It is also imperative to note that most foreign objects that usually get stuck in the ear are placed there the individuals themselves. Children, who are always curious about interesting objects and their body, are the group that experiences this problem the most.

The most common foreign objects that usually find their way in the ear include:

  1. Obstructing earwax:

Earwax is naturally produced in the ear canal but can sometimes become a problem when excessively produced. Excess earwax usually clogs and blocks the ear canal and may cause pain, hearing loss among other things. Obstructing earwax occurs commonly among people with an existing ear injury, infection, structurally narrowed ear canal or those who are associated with water activities that lead to water being retained in the ear.

Among most earwax obstruction cases, I have personally observed that the overuse of cotton swabs such as the Q-tips to clean the ear usually pushes wax as well as dead skin cells or debris further into the ear canal, where they are ultimately packed against the eardrum to cause the unwanted symptoms.

2. Infamous insects:

Though this rarely occurs, it can be one of the most painful and uncomfortable experiences. On most occasions, an insect will enter into your ear when you are outdoors and asleep, such as when you are camping. Also, a flying insect may find its way into your ear canal while you are awake, typically when you are either running or working outside. From Singaporean’s point of view, commonly, the despicable cringing cockroach can find its way in your ear canal.

The cockroach may die while inside your ear. However, it is also possible that it can remain alive and try to burrow its way outside the ear canal. This experience can be extremely painful, worrisome, and quite irritating. What’s even more worrying is that you risk causing injury to your ear canal or eardrum as a result of the crawling insect. Always seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible, and the retrieval of the insect should only be conducted by an experienced and qualified professional.

3. Cotton bud:

Nearly everybody has used a cotton bud to clean their ear. It is a common practice. However, As a professional, I would strongly advise you to avoid this particular practice sooner than later. If you didn’t know, cotton buds have the potential to push the accumulated earwax further down the ear canal, leading to obstruction and subsequent injury to your ear canal. The movement of the sticking cotton bud can potentially injure or damage the ear canal lining, predisposing you to ear infections.

4. Be wary of those small-sized buttons, batteries:

Some of those small-sized batteries found in toys as well as hearing aids can also pose a threat to your ear. If these battery devices get stuck in your ear, they should be immediately eliminated because batteries are not only highly toxic but also contain electric currents that are harmful to both the eardrum and ear canal. Small-sized buttons, beads, baby toys are some of the most common foreign objects that are found in infant’s ears. Your Walkman or iPod earpieces can get dislodged in your ear canal as well.

5. Be wary of water:

Perhaps most people are aware of the fact that the water that they usually use for bathing purposes is not as safe as they may have thought. If you didn’t know, water for bathing contains either chemical soap or shampoo, which is a great medium for bacteria to thrive. And this only implies that when this water is retained in the ear, there is a chance that you’ll get an ear infection. This is why you would want to keep your ear as clean and as dry as possible. When bathing or swimming, you can consider using safe earplugs or cotton wool plugs with Vaseline or shower caps.

6. Earplugs:

Earplugs are excellent devices that are inserted in the ear canal to help protect your ears from water intrusion, loud noises, foreign bodies, or excessive wind. However, these earplugs do come with their fair share of potential side effects, especially if used more regularly. With time, earplugs can push earwax back into the ear canal, resulting in a buildup. What’s more, earplugs can get pushed further in your ear as far as they can get, and will require immediate and professional removal. As a precaution, you should insert your earplug just far enough to block the unwanted sound.

7. Beads:

Young children are highly likely to self-insert beads into their ears, and this usually results in unpleasant effects. The eardrum may be scratched, scraped or injured. You should take your child to a nearby ear clinic as soon as possible when this occurs. If possible, beads should be kept in a safe place and far from children’s reach.

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