What is object in the ear?

Object in the Ear
Jump to

Objects in the ear: Overview

Objects (foreign bodies) inserted into the ear usually do not cause much damage. But objects that are inserted with force can damage the ear canal or pierce the eardrum.

Problems with objects in the ear most often occur in children younger than age 5 and in people who have problems with thinking and reasoning, such as an intellectual disability or Alzheimer's disease.

Some objects in the ear cause more problems than others.

  • An insect or object in the ear may just cause minor symptoms. A young child may complain of discomfort or unusual noises in the ear. In this case, it likely is okay to try to remove the object. If the object can't be removed, it may fall out on its own over the next 24 hours.
  • Some food items can cause problems if they are 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 object.
  • Disc batteries (also called button cell batteries) are more dangerous than other objects and should be removed right away. 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 as 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 stays in the ear longer than 24 hours.

An urgent visit to a doctor is needed anytime a disc battery is placed in the ear or if symptoms of injury develop after an object has been put in the ear. Symptoms of injury include sudden hearing loss, moderate to severe pain, dizziness, or bleeding.

Removing an object from the ear

Follow these tips 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 object.

  • Remove the object with blunt-ended tweezers.

    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 ear.

  • Don't try to remove an object if the person will not hold still.
  • Don't try to remove an object if it is so far inside the ear that you can't see the tips of the tweezers.
  • Don't try to flush out an object with water.
  • Use extra care when removing an object from a child's ear.

    When trying to remove an object from a child's ear, speak to the child in a calm, relaxed voice. This will help calm the child's fear. An object that is not causing symptoms doesn't have to be removed right away. If the child is upset, it may be best to let them calm down before you try to remove the object.

  • Call your doctor if you can't remove the object. You may need care.
Don't use ear candles. There is no proof that they help to remove earwax or other objects in the ear, and they can cause serious injury.

Object in a child's ear: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms of an ear infection, such as:
    • Pain, swelling, redness, heat, or tenderness around or behind the ear.
    • Drainage from the ear.
    • A fever.
    • A headache with a stiff neck.
    • Sudden hearing loss.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's symptoms become more severe or frequent.
  • You or your child thinks that there is still an object in the ear.
  • Your child does not get better in 2 to 4 days.
  • Your child has any new symptoms, such as hearing loss or dizziness.
  • Your child has bleeding or bloody drainage from the ear.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

Specialized emergency services

Find care near you

Comprehensive care

Find an ER near you