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Insects in the Ear: A Guide for Patients

Close Up Image of Female's Ear
You may have heard that in a lifetime, the average person swallows about 50 bugs in their sleep. Thankfully, this myth is untrue, and people rarely swallow bugs unintentionally. However, there's a similar problem that's more common than you might think: insects crawling into ears.
Having an insect enter your ear or your child's ear can be scary if you do not know how to handle this problem. Keep reading to learn the basics.

What Are the Signs of Having an Insect in Your Ear?

An insect in your ear makes itself impossible to ignore. You will generally notice a loud buzzing or humming noise, which is the insect attempting to fly. Insects that do not fly will try to crawl around, which may cause tickling sensations. Some patients experience pain, and others just feel a general sense of fullness in the ear. If you are not able to get the insect out promptly, more serious symptoms like swelling, redness, and hearing loss may develop.

What Are the Consequences of Having an Insect in Your Ear?

Although the pain you experience at the time may have you worried that you'll lose your hearing forever, this is highly unlikely. In the vast majority of cases, either you or your doctor will be able to safely remove the insect, and no harm will be done. The two worst things that can happen as a result of having an insect in your ear are a ruptured eardrum and an ear infection.
If the insect ruptures your ear drum, you may feel a sharp pain when it happens, but then the pain will fade. Your hearing will be muffled. However, contrary to popular belief, a ruptured eardrum will not cause permanent deafness. Once the insect is removed, the ear drum should heal itself within three months, at the most.
Ear infections are also fairly easy to treat. If you develop an ear infection because the insect introduced infectious bacteria to your ear, the symptoms will be obvious — pain, redness, swelling, and perhaps a fever. With antibiotics from your doctor, the infection should clear up shortly.

How Do You Remove the Insect?

The first thing you should do is try to encourage the insect to crawl out on its own. Take a few breaths, and try to relax. Do not move any more than necessary, as this may agitate or further confuse the bug. Lay on your side with the affected ear facing the ceiling. Have a friend shine a flashlight in your ear; some bugs will crawl towards the light. If this does not work, turn the affected ear towards the floor to see if gravity can help.
If you can see the bug and it is very near the ear opening, you can grab it with tweezers. Never reach into the actual ear canal with tweezers or a cotton swab in an attempt to dislodge the bug. You may end up driving the bug deeper into the ear or rupturing your eardrum.

How Will a Doctor Remove the Insect?

If the bug does not crawl out on its own and it is too far in for you to easily grasp, head to your doctor's office. If the bug is still alive when you reach your doctor's office, they may administer a drug to first kill the insect, which will make it easier to remove. Your doctor can use local anesthetic to numb your ear, and then they will use either a syringe of liquid or forceps to remove the bug.
Once the bug has been removed, your doctor will examine your ear for damage. If you have a ruptured ear drum or scratching in your ear canal, they may refer you to a specialist.
Insects crawl into ears quite often. Thus, this is a problem that most emergency and urgent care physicians are used to handling. Always seek medical care rather than taking drastic measures in an attempt to remove the insect yourself. If you are seeking follow-up care for a ruptured ear drum or other ear ailment caused by a bug, contact Birmingham Hearing & Balance Center.