Foreign bodies in the Ear

When an object gets stuck in the ear, doctors call this a foreign body.

Young children may put objects in their ear, which can damage the ear canal or drum and cause pain, infection or hearing loss. Objects commonly removed from children’s ears include:

  • Beads
  • Food such as seeds, peas or beans
  • Stones
  • Insects
  • Toys
  • Play-dough
  • Small batteries

Batteries are particularly dangerous and can cause very severe damage to the ear if not removed immediately. If you suspect your child has put a battery in their ear, nose or throat – please call 999 immediately.

Adults or older children also suffer with foreign bodies in the ear, such as:

  • Cotton buds
  • Tissue
  • Hearing aid parts
  • Silicone ear plugs

Grommets are small plastic tubes surgically inserted into the eardrum by a surgeon to treat ear disease. When they naturally push out of the ear drum, they usually fall out of the ear canal by themselves, but sometimes a grommet can become a foreign body that needs to be removed.

How are foreign bodies diagnosed?

It is usually straightforward to diagnose a foreign body. Your clinician will examine your ear with a bright light to identify the object. This will help your clinician work out the best way to safely remove the object. With children, sometimes it is necessary for parents to hold their child firmly so that they can be examined safely.

How do you remove foreign bodies from the ear?

Your clinician may remove the foreign body in a variety of ways, depending on what kind of foreign body is stuck in the ear. This can include inserting a fine suction pen into the ear (microsuction) or using fine instruments such as small tweezers called forceps or miniature hooks. Sometimes ear drops are used to soften or help move the foreign body before removal.

It is very important that foreign bodies are removed promptly, before they cause damage to the ear. It is important that only an Ear Care Specialist performs the procedure, so that this can be done safely and efficiently. This is particularly true for young children, who can become very distressed by multiple attempts at removal – this can result in long-term fear of healthcare professionals, so it is important to get it right first time! 

What happens after the procedure?

Usually, once the foreign body has been removed from the ear canal, no further treatment is needed. Occasionally, if the foreign body has been in the ear for some time, the ear canal can become irritated or infected. This may require treatment with ear drops.

How can we prevent his from happening again?

Objects such as cotton buds should never be inserted into the ear canal, and silicone ear plugs should be avoided as they can break apart deep inside the ear canal. Hearing aids should be checked for loose fitting parts regularly.

Prevention is the key when it comes to stopping your child putting something in the ear. Remove small objects including batteries from children’s play area and as early as possible, teach children not to stick stuff in their ears, noses or throats. We recommend a great children’s book by ENT doctor Jerald Altman & Richard Jacobson called “Don’t Stick Sticks Up Your Nose! Don’t Stuff Stuff in Your Ears!”