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Foreign Body in the Ear-How To Remove them

It's not uncommon to have a person present with a foreign body lodged in one or both ear canals. These foreign objects may be solid such as peanut, maize kernel or a stone; or soft bodies such as wax, cotton wool or paper. In the ear canal, natural wax may be impacted into the deeper medial end of the external ear canal or even onto the tymphanic membrane itself and may act as a foreign object.

It is quite common following an attempt to clean the ear canal with an impoverished cotton bud. Over the years wax may become deeply impacted in the ear canal and even on the membrane by 'do-it-yourself' attempts to remove the wax with a cotton bud. Also, daily repetitive insertion of hearing aid mould into the ear canal may impact wax deep into the canal causing a dangerous conductive hearing loss. Moths, beetles or other insects are from time to time seen lodged in the ear canal.

The insect may be alive and cause thunderous or alarming racket to you. Usually the membrane is not injured by the insect and may simply appear slightly hyperaemic. A person with foreign objects in their ears, whether self inserted or otherwise, may have a painful irritation or swelling in the external ear canal. Mild  conductive loss may be present, although sometimes unnoticed by the individual. Once the foreign body is removed the person joyously announces his hearing improvement.

Impacted wax, sand or a small solid foreign body in the ear canal may only be coincidentally diagnosed during a routine examination. In case of a stuck foreign body in your ear, here are ways to remove them:

How to Remove Foreign Objects in the Ear
  • The first requirement is an excellent light source, preferably a headlight that allows 'hand-free' for deeper light penetration into the external ear canal.
  • For solid objects in the ear canal, it is best to use a ring curette; raking it rather then pushing it deeper in with forceps. Pushing the foreign body deeper into the ear canal may injure or perforate the membrane.
  • For soft foreign bodies such as paper or cotton wool. Use either curette or angled forceps.
  • Do not irritate a vegetable foreign body in the ear canal such as a peanut. It may cause further swelling compounding the problem.
  • Impacted wax or foreign objects deeply imbedded at the external ear canal can be removed by syringing with a water jet. Insects, alive or dead, may be removed with small forceps. If the insect is still alive but no instruments are available, then a few drops of oil into the ear canal will suffocate the insect, silencing it until the retrieval can be managed.
  • Removal of impacted wax from the eardrum is extremely uncomfortable and may warrant general anesthesia. This is also recommended for frightened children.
Note: Always look for multiple foreign bodies lodged in the ear of your child periodically. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

Dr. Lucy Wachuka
About the Guest Author:

Lucy Wachuka is a registered clinical officer (Reg. number 2126). She is an ENT specialist and she enjoys what she does. You can keep in touch with her via Email


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