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Foreign Body, Ear (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care

Most objects that become lodged in the ear should prompt a call to a doctor. If this object is causing no symptoms and the doctor's office is closed, an evaluation can usually wait until the following morning.

Depending on your particular medical community, your doctor may wish to see you in the office or refer you to a local emergency department or other specialist. Do not expect any health care professional to be able to assess the situation adequately over the phone. If there is any concern for the presence of a foreign body in the ear, you should be physically examined by a qualified medical professional.

  • Persistent pain, bleeding, or discharge from the ear could mean that the ear passages have not been completely cleared, part of the object could remain inside the ear, or an infection of the ear canal has developed. These infections generally respond well to antibiotic drops, but an exam and prescription are necessary.
  • A foreign body in the ear can also damage the eardrum, which may or may not affect hearing. Because you can’t see the eardrum from the outside, an exam of the ear is recommended.

In the majority of cases, the situation of having something in your ear will not be life threatening. Usually you will have time to call your regular doctor. The urgency of the situation primarily depends on the location of the object and the substance involved.

  • Button batteries commonly found in many small devices and toys can decompose enough in the body to allow the chemicals to leak out and cause a burn. Urgent removal is advised.
  • Urgent removal is also recommended for food or plant material (such as beans) because these will swell when moistened.
  • Urgent examination is indicated if the object is causing significant pain or discomfort, or there is significant hearing decline or dizziness.

Exams and Tests for Foreign Body in Ear

Most objects can be seen with good lighting and a few instruments.

  • Occasionally, an object is discovered accidentally when X-rays are taken for unrelated reasons. It is important to realize that many materials such as food, wood, and plastic will not be visible on a routine X-ray.
  • Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to examine the entire head and neck region. It is distinctly possible that the person has multiple foreign bodies in both ears and foreign objects in the nose.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2015
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