Foreign Body in Ear Canal
Foreign bodies in a child’s ear canal are relatively common in an ENT practice. Luckily, they are rarely an emergency (exception: batteries, see below). Items such as popcorn, beans, beads or jewelry, erasers, rocks and insects have been found in our patients’ ears. Sometimes, multiple items have been pushed into the canal. Physical findings vary according to the object and length of time it has been in the ear canal. Inorganic objects, such as rocks and beads generally do not cause pain; these objects are often found on a routine ear exam by the pediatrician. Other objects that can absorb water and swell inside the canal, such as popcorn or beans, may present with pain or ear drainage, and can present specific challenges with removal.
NOTE: DO NOT try to remove the object by putting tweezers, fingers, or any other device into the ear canal. This almost always pushes the object in farther and makes removal by the healthcare provider very difficult. Watch your child closely to make sure that he doesn’t push the object in.
Removal of objects is best accomplished by an ENT doctor who has the appropriate equipment to visualize and painlessly grasp the object. Often, pediatric patients present to the ENT doctor after someone has attempted to flush the object out with water. This may cause injury to the canal and eardrum, trap water behind the object, push the object further toward the eardrum, and increase the child’s fear and cooperation on further exams. If your pediatrician or family doctor is unable to easily visualize and grasp the object, it is recommended that you come in for one of our doctors to remove it. On rare occasions, it may be necessary to remove the object under anesthesia to prevent injury to the eardrum or canal.
Insects in the ear canal can occur at any age and cause immediate distress to the patient. The insect can scratch or bite the canal, and all patients are anxious by the noise the trapped insect makes. The insect needs to be killed with the insertion of either alcohol or mineral oil into the ear canal. Do not pour anything into the canal if the eardrum is not intact, has a tube in it, or you are uncertain if there is a perforation as this can cause extreme pain and possible hearing loss. The insect should be removed as quickly as possible by an ENT doctor.
It should be noted that any ingestion or trapping of any small “button” battery, in the ear canal, nose, esophagus or stomach is an emergency situation. These small batteries can quickly cause tissue damage and burning and must be treated with urgency. Children should not have access to small hearing aid or other button-shaped batteries.