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How is an object in the ear diagnosed?
Objects in the ear usually can be seen by a doctor by directly looking in the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. A magnifying light with a plastic cone tip is slid into the ear canal to look at the structures inside. In cases involving children, it is important to realize there may be more than one foreign body, and other orifices (other ear, mouth, nose and rectum) may also need to be examined. Once the object is seen, there are many ways of retrieving it.
How is an object in the ear treated?
If the object is very small the affected individual can try to gently shake it out. Pulling the back of the ear (the pinna) gently toward the back of the head straightens out the ear canal and the foreign body may roll or slide out with a gentle shake of the ear. Do not strike the affected person's head on the opposite side to try to dislodge the foreign object.
If the foreign object is deeper in the ear than can be seen with the naked eye, a qualified medical professional should remove it. Do not stick anything into the ear to remove an object yourself, as you may push it in further and cause damage or rupture of the eardrum or scratch the skin of the ear canal.
At the doctor's office or in the emergency room the foreign object can be removed using several techniques.
- Modified tweezers or forceps can be used to reach in and grab the object with the help of an otoscope so important structures are not damaged.
- Gentle suction can be used to suck out the object.
- Irrigation of the canal with warm water and a small catheter can flush certain materials out of the canal and clean out debris.
- Some doctors have devised ingenious and novel ways to remove objects from ear canals.
Do not try these things yourself at home.
Small children do not tolerate painful or scary interventions, and may need to be sedated medically to have objects removed from their ears. Often with children, the first try is the most successful, as subsequent attempts to remove an object can be painful and frightening to the child.
Insects in the ear canal are often killed with either lidocaine (an anesthetic) or mineral oil. They are then flushed out with gentle warm water irrigation.
After the foreign object is removed the doctor may put the patient on antibiotic drops for five days to a week to prevent infection from trauma to the ear canal.