Objects in the Ear - Topic Overview
Objects (foreign bodies) inserted into the ear usually do not cause
significant damage. But objects that are inserted forcefully can damage the
ear canal or penetrate the eardrum.
Problems with objects in the
ear most commonly occur in children younger than age 5 and in people who have
problems with thinking and reasoning, such as an intellectual disability or
Some objects in the
ear cause more problems than others.
- An insect or object in the ear may cause minimal
symptoms. A young child may complain of discomfort or unusual noises in the
ear. In this case, it is reasonable to try to remove the object. If the object
cannot be removed, it may fall out on its own over the next 24
- Food items may be placed in the ear. Dry foods expand when
they become moist. Seeds, such as beans, peas, or popcorn, can swell from the
moistness of the ear canal, making them harder to remove. The objects may
cause pain and hearing loss as they expand to fill the ear canal. The
irritation may cause a bad-smelling liquid to drain from the ear.
The tip or a piece of cotton from a cotton swab may become lodged in the ear
canal if one is used to try to clean the ear canal or remove another
- Disc batteries (also called button cell batteries) are more
dangerous than other objects and should be removed immediately. The moist
tissue in the ear canal can cause the battery to release strong chemicals
(alkali) quickly, often in less than 1 hour. These chemicals can cause a severe
burn and scarring in a little as 4 hours.
The longer an object is left in the ear, the more difficult it
is to remove. Also, the longer an object stays in the ear, the higher the chances of infection.
A visit to a doctor is needed if an object remains in the ear longer than 24
An urgent visit to a doctor is needed any time a disc
battery is placed in the ear or if symptoms of injury develop after an object
has been inserted in the ear. Symptoms of injury include sudden hearing loss,
moderate to severe pain, dizziness, or bleeding.
Use the Check Your
Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.