A foreign body means something that is stuck inside you but isn't supposed to be there. Foreign bodies are more common in small children, who sometimes stick things in their mouths, ears, and noses.
Young children may place objects into their ears for various reasons. Often, they are playing or copying another child. Objects that commonly become stuck in a child's ear are crayon tips, beads, toys, and food. Multiple foreign bodies are not uncommon, especially in small children. Thus, all other orifices of the head (nose and throat) should be inspected after removal of a foreign body from the ear.
In adults, insects are the foreign bodies most commonly found in the ear (eg, cockroaches, moths, flies, household ants).
Children also commonly place objects into their noses. These objects often include pencil erasers, nuts, and small toys.
Many techniques are used to remove ear foreign bodies are available, depending on the situation and the type of foreign body. Options include water irrigation, forceps removal and suction catheters. Removal of foreign bodies can become complicated and may be best performed by an Ear Nose and Throat physician.
Most adults are able to tell their doctor or healthcare provider that there is something in their ear, but this is not always true. For example, an older adult with a hearing aid may lose a button battery or hearing aid in their canal and not realize it. Patients may have hearing loss or sense of fullness.
Children, depending on age, may be able to indicate that they have a foreign body, or they may present with complaints of ear pain or discharge.
Patients may be in significant discomfort and complain of nausea or vomiting if a live insect is in the ear canal. Insects may injure the canal or tympanic membrane by scratching or stinging.
Pain or bleeding may occur with objects that scratch the ear canal or rupture the tympanic membrane or from the patient's attempts to remove the object.
If the foreign body has been lodged in the ears for some time there may be swelling or inflammation of the ear canal and a foul-smelling discharge may be present.
If you can see the foreign body in the ear and remove it easily, carefully do so using tweezers. Never poke at the ear or try to remove the object by force. Because failed attempts to remove the foreign body can push the object in deeper, damage the ear canal or damage the eardrum it is often best to seek medical attention.
Irrigation is the simplest method of foreign body removal, provided the tympanic membrane (eardrum) is not perforated. Irrigation with water is not recommended for soft objects, organic matter, or seeds, which may swell if exposed to water. Suction is sometimes a useful means of foreign body removal.
The physician may need to sedate the patient to attempt removal of the object.