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Objects in the ear

4-minute read

What is an object in the ear?

Children often poke things like small toys or beads into their ears to see how far they will go, or to try to scratch an itch.

If you think a child has an object in their ear, take them see a doctor. If the object contains chemicals (like a button battery) or is a bean (which can swell) you should go to the Emergency Department.

Objects commonly found in ears include:

  • cotton buds
  • hearing aid batteries
  • stones or fruit pips
  • folded paper
  • insects
  • seeds

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 seek medical assistance if there is pain, a discharge from the ear, reduced hearing or a feeling that something is stuck in the ear.

How is an object in the ear diagnosed?

Your doctor will look into the ear with a light and an instrument.

How is an object in the ear treated?

You could try tilting your head to the side to try to dislodge the object. If it’s an insect in your ear, you could pour a little olive oil or baby oil in to try and float it out. You could try washing the object out with some warm water.

Beyond these measures, don’t try to remove the object yourself as you could cause further damage. Don’t put a cotton swab or matchstick into the ear to try to get the object out — you could push it further in.

Your doctor can remove the object with a special instrument. Children may need to be sedated to allow a doctor to do this.

In the meantime:

  • keep your ear well protected to avoid knocking or banging — this will reduce the risk of further damage
  • don’t block any fluid draining from the ear or try to remove fluid from inside the ear
  • if there is bleeding from the ear, cover the entire ear with a clean dressing
  • if you are in pain, get advice on the pain relief medicines you can take

If there is discharge from the ear:

  • gently wipe away any fluids or discharge from the ear area 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 insert objects into their ears. Make sure children under 3 cannot reach batteries (especially small button batteries), needles, pins, coins, marbles, the tops of ballpoint pens or polystyrene beads.

You can also:

  • choose toys that are appropriate for the age of the 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 three at all times they are in contact with small objects, which include small items of food such as peas, beans or watermelon seeds

What are the complications of an object in the ear?

Depending on what is in the ear and the amount of time it has been there, objects in the ear can cause:

  • pain
  • deafness or muffled hearing
  • discharge or swelling (if the object has been inside the 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 place for some time, part of the object remains in the ear, or a second, undetected object is stuck in the ear.

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

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

Last reviewed: November 2019


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