If the object is a button battery or something that can swell up — such as a bean — it is a medical emergency. You should go straight to the emergency department or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
- If you think a child has an object in their ear, take them to see a doctor.
- If the object contains chemicals you should go to the emergency department.
- If possible, teach children not to put objects into their ears.
What is an object in the ear?
Children often poke things like small toys or beads into their ears. They may want to see what it feels like or just be curious. Sometimes another child might put something in someone else’s ear.
If you think a child has an object in their ear, take them to see a doctor.
If the object contains chemicals (like a button battery) or is a bean (which can swell) you should go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
Objects commonly found in ears include:
- cotton buds
- hearing aid batteries
- stones or fruit pips
- folded paper
What are the symptoms of an object in the ear?
Symptoms can include:
- ear pain
- ear irritation
- a feeling of something in the ear
- loss of hearing
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How can an object in the ear be managed?
You can try to gently loosen the object. You could try tilting your head to the side. This might move the object so it falls out.
If there’s an insect in your ear, you could pour a little olive oil or baby oil into your ear. This might let the insect float out.
You could try washing the object out with some warm water.
If these gentle methods do not work, you should stop trying to get the object out. If you keep trying, you could cause more damage to your ear.
Don’t put a cotton swab or matchstick into the ear. You could push the object further in.
When should I see my doctor?
If the object does not fall out of the ear by itself, you will need to see a doctor. Always get medical help if:
- your ear is painful
- there is a discharge from your ear
- you can’t hear well anymore
- there is a feeling that something is stuck in your ear
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How is an object in the ear diagnosed?
Your doctor will look into your ear with a light.
How is an object in the ear treated?
Your doctor can remove the object with a special instrument. Children may need some medicine to make them sleepy to let the doctor do this.
While you are waiting to get medical help:
- keep your ear well protected so you don’t damage it further
- don’t stop any fluid that comes out of the ear
- don’t try and get fluid out of the ear
- if your ear is bleeding, cover the whole ear with a clean pad or dressing
- if you are in pain, get advice from a pharmacy or doctor about pain relief medicines you can take
If there is discharge from your ear:
- gently wipe away any liquid or discharge using soft tissues
- throw used tissues away immediately
- wash and dry your hands regularly to prevent the spread of infection
Can an object in the ear be prevented?
If possible, teach children not to put objects into their ears.
Make sure children under 3 years can’t reach:
- batteries (especially small button batteries)
- needles and pins
- pen tops
- polystyrene beads
You can also:
- choose toys that are appropriate for the age of your child
- be aware that toys may have small parts that can be removed
- encourage older children to keep their toys away from younger children
- supervise children under the age of 3 years at all times — especially when they are in contact with small objects such as toys, foods or things in the garden
Complications of an object in the ear
Complications of an object in the ear depend on the nature of the object. It also depends on how long it’s in your ear and if there has been damage to your ear.
Objects in the ear can cause:
- deafness or muffled hearing
- discharge or swelling (if the object has been inside your ear for some time)
The ear can become infected, even after the object is removed.
Infection is more likely if the object has been in the ear for some time. Infection can also happen if a part of the object stays in the ear.
Sometimes there is an extra object in the ear that is not noticed. If it stays there for some time, it could also lead to infection.
The symptoms of infection are:
- deafness or muffled hearing
- fluid or discharge from the ear
- redness and swelling of the ear canal
- a temperature
Resources and support
You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: March 2023