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Oh, The Things That Get Stuck In Your Ear!

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I could not wait to get home from work today to write about my afternoon. Even as a pediatrician, I sometimes get “coaxed” into seeing an adult patient, usually the parent of one of my patients.

So, I got a phone call, an email and a text (how many ways can you find your doctor?) from an anxious adult.  This mother had been cleaning her own ears with a Q-tip and the tip of the swab had come off in her ear!!  She was “freaking out” and wondered if I might be able to look in her ear and get the swab tip out?

After calling her back and chastising her for using a Q-tip, I told her to come in and we would attempt to get the cotton out of her ear. It wasn’t supposed to be a “big deal”.

When she came in I looked in both her ears, they were the cleanest ears you could imagine. She told me she loved to use a Q-tip in her ears after a shower, even though she had been “told” not to use Q-tips in her own children’s ears, the old adage, “nothing smaller than an elbow should go in the ear”.

At any rate, the entire tip of a cotton swab was lodged in her ear canal. Now it seems like it would be easy to get that big piece of cotton out of her ear canal, right? I mean I have taken beans, rocks, raisins, puzzle pieces, bugs and many other foreign objects out of ears…honest!

This was an adult, who wasn’t squirming or crying, with a piece of cotton stuck and I thought this should be a piece of cake.  Well, I have to tell you, that very large piece of cotton Q-tip was as far back in the ear canal as you can get and it didn’t want to budge!!

It can be quite uncomfortable to remove a foreign body from an ear, especially when it is deep in the canal and also touches the entire ear canal.  She had brought along her 5 year old daughter, who ended up serving as her hand holder and emotional support (role reversal).  After much to do, I could get the cotton moved up closer to the opening of the canal, but could not get it out. By now it was soggy and looked like a huge cumulus cloud in the previously very clean ear.

So, I decided to abort the mission, and we would regroup the next day and decide if we might need the help of a friendly ENT. The best part of the story is listening to her daughter who kept telling her things like “ I can’t wait to tell all of my friends” or “didn’t the doctor tell us not to put stuff in our ears?”  Out of the mouth of babes has never been more true.

The good news is that she saw the ENT today and she said the cotton just “slipped right out” after my mini surgery. I guess what I need to do is keep my practice limited to children, these adults are harder than you think!?

Any crazy thing stuck in you or your child’s ear? Leave your story below and we’ll all laugh together!

We’ll talk again tomorrow!

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