Foreign Body Removal

The removal of foreign bodies from the ear is a common procedure in the emergency department. Children older than 9 months often present with foreign bodies in the ear; at this age, the pincer grasp is fully developed, which enables children to maneuver tiny objects.

See Foreign Bodies: Curious Findings, a Critical Images slideshow, to help identify various foreign objects and determine appropriate interventions and treatment options.

In adults, insects (eg, cockroaches, moths, flies, household ants) are the foreign bodies most commonly found in the ear. Rarely, other objects have been reported (eg, teeth, hardened concrete sediments, illicit drugs, plant material). Also, some adults with psychiatric disorders present to the emergency department with foreign bodies lodged in their ears as a form of self-mutilation called ear stuffing.

In children, the range of foreign bodies is extensive. Food particles (eg, candy, vegetable matter, beans, chewing gum) and other organic material (eg, leaves, flowers, cotton pieces) are commonly encountered. Inorganic objects such as small toys, beads, pencil erasers, and rocks are also common.

The ear is composed of external, middle (tympanic) (malleus, incus, and stapes), and inner (labyrinth) (semicircular canals, vestibule, cochlea) portions. The auricle and external acoustic meatus (or external auditory canal) compose the external ear. The external ear functions to collect and amplify sound, which then gets transmitted to the middle ear. The tympanic cavity (middle ear) extends from the tympanic membrane to the oval window and contains the bony conduction elements of the malleus, incus, and stapes. The primary functionality of the middle ear is that of bony conduction of sound via transference of sound waves in the air collected by the auricle to the fluid of the inner ear. The inner ear, also called the labyrinthine cavity, is essentially formed of the membranous labyrinth encased in the bony osseus labyrinth. The labyrinthine cavity functions to conduct sound to the central nervous system as well as to assist in balance.