Objects (foreign bodies) inserted into the ear usually do not cause
significant damage. But objects that are inserted forcefully can damage the
ear canal or penetrate the eardrum.
Problems with objects in the
ear most commonly occur in children younger than age 5 and in people who have
problems with thinking and reasoning, such as an intellectual disability or
Some objects in the
ear cause more problems than others.
An insect or object in the ear may cause minimal
symptoms. A young child may complain of discomfort or unusual noises in the
ear. In this case, it is reasonable to try to remove the object. If the object
can't be removed, it may fall out on its own over the next 24
Food items may be placed in the ear. Dry foods expand when
they become moist. Seeds, such as beans, peas, or popcorn, can swell from the
moistness of the ear canal, making them harder to remove. The objects may
cause pain and hearing loss as they expand to fill the ear canal. The
irritation may cause a bad-smelling liquid to drain from the ear.
The tip or a piece of cotton from a cotton swab may become lodged in the ear
canal if one is used to try to clean the ear canal or remove another
Disc batteries (also called button cell batteries) are more
dangerous than other objects and should be removed immediately. The moist
tissue in the ear canal can cause the battery to release strong chemicals
(alkali) quickly, often in less than 1 hour. These chemicals can cause a severe
burn and scarring in a little as 4 hours.
The longer an object is left in the ear, the harder it
is to remove. Also, the longer an object stays in the ear, the higher the chances of infection.
A visit to a doctor is needed if an object remains in the ear longer than 24
An urgent visit to a doctor is needed any time a disc
battery is placed in the ear or if symptoms of injury develop after an object
has been inserted in the ear. Symptoms of injury include sudden hearing loss,
moderate to severe pain, dizziness, or bleeding.
Disc batteries are small, round
batteries used in toys, cameras, watches, and other devices. Because of the
chemicals they can release, they can cause serious problems if they are
swallowed or get stuck in an ear or the nose. Small magnets used in household items and objects that contain a lot of lead (such as bullets, buckshot, fishing weights and sinkers, and some toys) also can cause problems if
If a disc battery is stuck in the ear or nose:
The battery needs to be removed right
away—within 1 hour if possible.
Use tweezers to try to remove the
battery. If you can't remove it, get medical help.
If you have swallowed a disc battery, magnet, or lead object:
Get medical help right away.
Do not try to
Do not eat or drink anything.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
To remove an object from the ear:
Tilt the head to the side and shake it. Gently
pulling the ear up and back may straighten the ear canal and help dislodge the
If the object is visible and the person is calm and
cooperative, carefully try to remove the object with blunt-ended tweezers. Do
not use non-gripping instruments, such as bobby pins, cotton swabs, or
matchsticks. Use care not to push the object farther into the
Do not try to remove an object if the person will not hold
Do not try to remove an object if it is so far inside the
ear that you can't see the tips of the tweezers.
Do not try to
flush an object out with water.
When trying to remove an object
from a child's ear:
Speak to the child in a calm, relaxed
voice. This will help control the child's fear.
An object that is
not causing symptoms does not have to be removed right away. If the child is
upset, it may be best to let him or her calm down before trying to remove the
To remove a disc battery from the ear:
If the battery
is partially out of the ear, you may be able to remove it with your fingers or
Do not use non-gripping instruments, such as
bobby pins, cotton swabs, or matchsticks.
Use care not to push the
battery farther into the ear.
If a child resists or is not able to
hold still, do not attempt to remove the battery.
Do not use
eardrops or sprays of any type. This can cause the battery to corrode more
If you can't remove the battery, call your doctor. If you
are not able to reach your doctor immediately, go directly to the nearest
hospital emergency department. Do not place eardrops or other solutions of any kind in the ear in an attempt to remove the battery.
Eardrops can cause the battery to corrode quickly, causing severe damage to the
To remove an insect from an ear:
Do not try to kill
an insect that has flown or crawled inside the ear.
Instead, pull the ear up and back, and let the
sun or a bright light shine inside the ear. Insects are attracted to light and
may crawl out.
If the insect does not crawl out:
Lie the person down with the ear facing
Fill the ear canal with warm (body temperature) mineral,
olive, or baby oil. The insect may float out.
Do not use ear candles. They have
no proven benefit in the removal of earwax or other objects in the ear and can
cause serious injury.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.