How to Deal With a Bug in Your Ear

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 07, 2022
5 min read

When you think of all of the places where you wouldn’t want a bug, ears are probably high on the list. No matter how old you are, getting a bug in your ear can be a disturbing — and potentially dangerous — experience. 

If a bug does get stuck in your ear, or your child’s ear, don’t panic. There are simple steps that you can take to solve the problem.

Despite barriers like earwax and the many internal twists and turns within the ear, your ear is still essentially an open hole on the side of your head. This means that any object that’s small enough to fit can get lodged within this opening. 

Unfortunately, plenty of insects are small enough to fit inside your ear. They can fly in when you’re outside — particularly in areas with lots of flying insects or if you’re standing in a swarm. They can even crawl into your ear when you’re sleeping. 

Some insects are more problematic than others when they’re inside your ear. For example, insects that can both fit in your ear and trigger allergic reactions include: 

There have also been reported cases of bedbugs and earwigs getting stuck in people’s ears. 

Once they’re in, they might quickly die. In this case, their body could be an irritant or obstruction. Insects that survive will probably move around looking for food and a way out.

It can be hard to tell if your ear problems are caused by an insect or a different kind of irritant. Different kinds of small objects, like stones and seeds, can get stuck in your ear too. Even certain medical conditions can cause similar symptoms in your ear. 

If you’re not sure what’s wrong with your ear, you should seek immediate medical attention. Medical staff can use a special scope to look inside your ears. They may be able to see the actual insect, object, or signs of another problem. 

Otherwise, living insects could cause symptoms that actually feel like a bug in the ear. You may be able to feel it moving around or hear a unique buzzing noise.

The exact symptoms that you’ll experience from a bug in your ear depend on the type of bug and whether or not it’s still alive. 

Dead bugs won’t be as irritating as living bugs, but they might sting or bite you before they die. This can lead to temporary irritation. The bug’s corpse could also muffle your hearing until it’s gone. 

Living bugs usually try to get back out of your ear. They may be flying or crawling around within your ear or stuck buzzing in a particular area. You may be able to feel the sensation of them moving around or vibrating their wings. 

Some bugs will sting or bite you when they’re trying to get out. The results of these interactions depend on the species. In general, bites and stings can be painful and itchy. 

You should be very cautious if you’re allergic to any kind of insect bite or sting, especially if you don’t know what kind of bug is in your ear. 

Other symptoms of a bug ear problem include tinnitus and otalgia. Tinnitus occurs when there’s a sound in your ear that no one else can hear. In this case, it’s caused by the bug. Otalgia is the technical term for an earache.

Believe it or not, bug removal from ears is something that you can do at home. 

First, try to turn and shake your head. If the bug is in your child’s ear, you should cup their head in your hands, tip it to the side, and gently shake it. The insect may be able to fly or crawl out due to these motions. Don’t hit your child’s head or ears. 

If it doesn’t come out and is still alive, you should pour a very small quantity of baby oil or vegetable oil into the ear canal. This will kill the insect and make it easier to remove. 

Once it’s dead, you should pour a small amount of warm water into the ear canal to wash the body out. You can use a bulb syringe, like the ones found in earwax removal kits, to help you flush it out. Some bugs require multiple flushes in order to get them out of your ear.

There are some things that you should never do when you think that there’s a bug in your ear. This includes:

  • Panicking. It can be frightening and confusing, especially for children, to experience an insect moving around inside of you. But there are plenty of ways to manage the situation. Panicking will only make each step more difficult. 
  • Using a cotton swab. Never use a cotton swab or a similar type of probe. These could push the insect even further into your ear, which will make it harder to get out later. Or, you could damage your middle ear and eardrum. 
  • Using water when you’re not sure it’s an insect. Pouring water into your ear could be dangerous if the stuck object is a bean or seed. The water could cause it to swell up inside your ear. 
  • Ignoring the problem. Don’t wait around in the hopes that the insect will come out on its own. The insect may be more dangerous than you think.

You don’t always need medical attention when you have a bug in your ear. But there are certain situations when you should seek immediate medical attention. This includes when: 

  • You or your child are too upset to manage the issue on your own — your child will need to stay still while you work on their ear and this can be difficult if they’re too worked up
  • You or your child have a history of frequent ear problems — you could make these problems worse by trying to remove the insect on your own
  • You or your child have tubes in your ears
  • You’ve tried shaking and flushing the ear and the insect still won’t come out — some insects need to be removed with forceps and this should only be done by a medical professional
  • Only bits and pieces of the insect are coming out in your removal attempts
  • There are signs of an ear infection — like fever, a bad smell, or fluid in the ear

If you’re not sure whether you need medical help or have any questions about the flushing process, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. You need to get the insect out as soon as possible. Decide on a case-by-case basis whether you can tackle this problem on your own.