Mayo Clinic Health Library

Foreign object in the ear

Updated: 10-11-2011

A foreign object in the ear can cause pain and hearing loss. Usually you know if an object is stuck in your ear, but small children may not be aware of it.

If an object becomes lodged in the ear, follow these steps:

  • Don't probe the ear with a tool. Don't attempt to remove the foreign object by probing with a cotton swab, matchstick or any other tool. To do so is to risk pushing the object farther into the ear and damaging the fragile structures of the middle ear.
  • Remove the object if possible. If the object is clearly visible, pliable and can be grasped easily with tweezers, gently remove it.
  • Try using gravity. Tilt the head to the affected side to try to dislodge the object.
  • Try using oil for an insect. If the foreign object is an insect, tilt the person's head so that the ear with the offending insect is upward. Try to float the insect out by pouring mineral oil, olive oil or baby oil into the ear. The oil should be warm but not hot. As you pour the oil, you can ease the entry of the oil by straightening the ear canal. Pull the earlobe gently backward and upward for an adult, backward and downward for a child. The insect should suffocate and may float out in the oil bath. Don't use oil to remove any object other than an insect. Do not use this method if the child has ear tubes in place or if there is any suspicion of a perforation in the eardrum — pain, bleeding or discharge from the ear.

If these methods fail or the person continues to experience pain in the ear, reduced hearing or a sensation of something lodged in the ear, seek medical assistance.

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