Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Objects in the ear

5-minute read

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.

Key facts

  • 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
  • insects
  • seeds

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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

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
  • coins
  • marbles
  • 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:

  • pain
  • 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:

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Foreign objects in noses, ears, eyes, mouths: kids | Raising Children Network

To stop children from inserting or swallowing foreign objects including button batteries, keep them away from children. Get medical help for stuck objects.

Read more on website

Eardrum perforation: symptoms, causes and treatment

Eardrum perforation can be caused by infection, a blow to the ear, injury from an object inserted in the ear, or exposure to a sudden loud noise.

Read more on myDr website

Ear problems -

Common ear problems include otitis media, glue ear, ear wax and swimmer's ear.

Read more on myDr website

Ear problems: self-care -

Common ear problems include otitis media and glue ear (which mostly affect children), ear wax build-up and swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Find out what products are available for ear problems.

Read more on myDr website

Swimmer's ear - Better Health Channel

Swimmer's ear can be triggered by exposure to water or mechanical damage due to overzealous cleaning.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Understanding the Basics of Ear Wax

Learn about what ear wax is, why it forms, and how to effectively manage it for optimal ear health.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Ear wax in children: what to do about it | Raising Children Network

Ear wax protects your child’s ear canal from water, infection and trauma. Ear wax build-up isn’t usually a problem, but see a GP if you’re concerned.

Read more on website

Earache in babies & children: what to do | Raising Children Network

Earache in babies and children is very common. It’s a good idea to see your GP if your child complains of a sore ear or you think your baby has earache.

Read more on website

Button batteries | Product Safety Australia

If swallowed, a button battery can become stuck in a child’s throat and result in catastrophic injuries and even death. Insertion of button batteries into body orifices such as ears and noses can also lead to significant injuries. Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times.

Read more on Product Safety Australia website

Wearing hearing aids for the first time?

Using hearing aids for the first time can be an overwhelming experience as you readjust to interpreting sounds you may not have heard for years or ever at all.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.