Foreign object in the ear canal



What is foreign object in the ear canal?

A foreign object in the ear can be anything in the ear canal (the tube that leads from the eardrum to the outside) that normally would not be there. A person may put something into the ear on purpose (such as a cotton swab), or by accident (for example, a small earring). Children put many different small objects into their own or another child’s ears. Sometimes an insect may crawl or fly into the ear. Whether it’s the end of a cotton swab or a small toy, often what goes into the ear does not come out easily.

How common is foreign object in the ear canal?

Foreign object in the ear canal is extremely common for emergency room visits, especially in children. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of foreign object in the ear canal?

A foreign object in the ear canal usually feels strange or uncomfortable. Hearing in that ear may be affected. There may be pain if the object injures the ear canal or the eardrum, or causes an infection of the outer ear canal (otitis externa). There may be ringing in the ear and, sometimes, an ongoing dry cough.

If an insect enters the ear canal, a person may hear buzzing or feel tickling sensations and the insect may sting or bite inside the ear canal.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes foreign object in the ear canal?

Most objects that get stuck in the ear canal are placed there by the person themselves. Children who are curious about their bodies and interesting objects, are the group most often has this problem (children aged 9 months to 8 years).

The most common things they put in their ears include:

  • Beads
  • Food (especially beans)
  • Paper
  • Cotton swabs
  • Rubber erasers
  • Small toys
  • Marbles
  • Small shells

Ear wax: Ear wax is a naturally occurring substance in the ear canal but can become a problem when it builds up to the point that it clogs the ear canal, and causes hearing loss or pain. Overuse of cotton swabs such as Q-tips to clean the ear can actually push wax and skin cell debris further into the canal and pack it against the eardrum causing symptoms.

Insects: Insects can also fly or crawl into the ear canal. Usually this happens while sleeping on the floor or outdoors (for example, camping). This is often a frightening and dramatic event as the insect’s buzzing and movement is very loud and sometimes painful.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for foreign object in the ear canal?

Please consult your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is foreign object in the ear canal diagnosed?

Your doctor will use a lighted magnifying lens called an otoscope to look inside the ear canal, see the object and also see whether you have an infection or a torn eardrum.

How is foreign object in the ear canal treated?

Do not try to remove any object yourself unless you can see it clearly from the outside. Small objects sometimes can fall out of the ear canal with the help of gravity if the ear is turned toward the ground. A child may be encouraged to gently shake his or her own head while holding his or her head so the ear faces down. Never shake a child in an effort to dislodge an object from the ear.

You can try to pull out cotton or paper using tweezers or your fingers, but a doctor, who has all the necessary tools, should remove most objects. This is because many injuries from objects in the ear canal happen when a person tries to remove an object without a doctor’s help. Sometimes, the doctor can flush out the object with water or use a special hook, if needed. The doctor also can check with a lighted instrument called an otoscope once the object has been removed to be sure everything looks normal again.

If there is an insect in the ear canal, never push your finger into the ear because the insect may sting or bite. Turn the head so the affected ear faces up. The insect may crawl out on its own but if it doesn’t, place a few drops of mineral oil into the ear. This will suffocate the insect. Your doctor then can remove the insect by flushing out the ear canal with clean water.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage foreign object in the ear canal?

Do not use any objects, such as tissues, cotton swabs or toothpicks, to clean the ear canal. The most common cause of a hole (perforation) in the eardrum is from putting a foreign object into the ear.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: October 30, 2017