General Question

flo's avatar

Can an inanimate object get pushed through the ear?

Asked by flo (7501 points ) February 1st, 2013

Like the cotton from a defective Q-tip ? A 10 year old child forgot to report that the cotton stayed behind while he was cleaning in there, weeks or so ago. Is the ear canal big enough to swallow the cotton?

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25 Answers

filmfann's avatar

There is no where for it to go, but it can do a lot of damage in the small space that is there.
Time to go to the doctor.

flo's avatar

@filmfann what would you tell me more about the damage?

PhiNotPi's avatar

Diagram of the ear

The cotton is stuck in the “outer ear canal” and it may still be there.

The eardrum seals off the outer ear, so there is only one way for the cotton to be removed, and that is for it to travel back out the way it came.

flo's avatar

Thanks @PhiNotPi take him to the doctor I guess.

hearkat's avatar

It is actually quite common for all or part of the cotton swab to remain in the ear… one of the many reasons why we advise people to not put them in their ears. If the child is not in any pain and can seem to hear well from that ear, it is not an emergency situation; but you do want to get it removed as soon as possible before wax builds up around it and plugs the ear, or before it can get wet and breed bacteria or fungus.

Many family physicians and pediatricians will not remove foreign objects from the ear canal, so call the child’s primary care doctor first and explain the situation to see if they want to try or if they will just refer you directly to an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT or Otolaryngologist).

Response moderated (Spam)
flo's avatar

@hearkat he has no discomfort whatsoever by the way, but yeah, better not to leave it there.

Rarebear's avatar

Q tips should never be used to clean ears.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Rarebear but we all do it because it works and feels good when it’s clean, and most of us never have major problems. On the “advice my doctor gives me compliance scale” from 1 to 10, (a 10 would be to have your child vaccinated) where does the don’t use Q-tips rule land?

Rarebear's avatar

About a 7. I’ve seen two perforated eardrums from q tips over the years.

glacial's avatar

< – - – - – - – - – - Not going to the doctor every time my ears are itchy.

hearkat's avatar

@glacial, @gorillapaws, and @Everybody: The ears are self-cleaning and cerumen (ear wax) is supposed to be there (like mucus in our noses). Whether you believe in creation or evolution, the body’s systems are there for a reason. The oil is soothing and moisturizing to the sensitive skin, but it is viscous in order to trap dirt, debris and critters to protect the delicate structures.

Using cotton swabs in the ear canal creates more problems than it solves. It damages the cilia that push the wax towards the opening so it can be washed away with a washcloth. It removes the wax and oil, leaving the skin unprotected and dry, and then easily abraded by the cotton fibers of the swab. As the skin heals it itches (as is typical when we are healing from cuts, scrapes and burns), when our ears itch we stick something in there to scratch the itch – thus perpetuating the problem and developing an ongoing cycle.

Like most people, I was raised with my mother using cotton swabs like roto-rooter in my ears, and I hated it; but began doing it regularly myself as I got older. Once I learned that using swabs is bad, I broke myself of the habit – and it wasn’t easy! But now that I don’t use swabs regularly, my ears don’t itch anywhere near as often as they used to.

Some people’s cerumen glands are more active than others – just like some folks have oily skin and others have dry. For them, using drops to soften the wax helps keep the ear canals clear. For those with dry skin, there are oil-based drops available. Many people have ear canals that are smaller than the head of the swab, so the wax gets pushed deeper into the canal beyond where the cilia are, and it becomes impacted. Over time it builds up and dries out and becomes a plug in the ear. Removal can be painful, since the wax becomes sticky and pulls at the skin. I have also seen many eardrum that have been damaged by people using objects to scratch their itchy ears or clean their ears.

flo's avatar

I’ve heard that too don’t use q-tips in ears. Isn’t the eardrumall the way down in there? How did they manage to get in there with q-tip to perforate it? It makes me sick to just imagine it.
They say to use things as thick as your little finger.

hearkat's avatar

@flo – The eardrum isn’t all that deep in the head… and the smaller the skull, the shorter the ear canal. Typically, those who puncture their own eardrums do so accidentally, by bumping their arm into something. Also, patients have admitted to me that they’ve used other items besides cotton swab to scratch or clean their ears: bobby pins, toothpicks, and even knitting needles!

flo's avatar

@hearkat ” ...by bumping their arm into something.”? I’m trying to imagine it.

” ...toothpicks, and even knitting needles!” Boy!

flo's avatar

By the way @hearkat what do you suggest to use instead of toothpicks?

flo's avatar

@Rarebear what do you suggest instead of q-tips?

Rarebear's avatar

@flo nothing. Leave it alone.

flo's avatar

But hygeine, @Rarebear I mean the wax is going to collect and collect and it at some point it will spill out. Some people hardly produce any, but for those who do, ...

hearkat's avatar

@flo – as mentioned before, the ears are self-cleaning, by way of cilia that push the wax toward the ear canal opening to be washed away with a washcloth on your finger. For those who have issues with ear wax build-up, there are ear drops to help keep the wax soft (Debrox is the best known), or oils that soothe and protect dry ears (MiraCell is the one I recommend to my patients). Some people do need regular cerulean management, and most health insurance policies in the USA do cover that.

One person had someone walk into the room and the door bumped their elbow.
Other people seem to multi-task while poking in their ears with cotton swabs.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Rarebear, @hearkat thanks for taking the time to share both of your great answers!

hearkat's avatar

@Rarebear: That ScienceBlogs is scary! How did medical professionals look in the ear and see obstruction and not clean it out? I’m glad I don’t live in the UK!!

flo's avatar

Yes I second the motion, great answers.

So, the “dizziness-and balance” image is what I had in my head. I don’t believe the cotton ball went inside the canal with the boy. Does This diagram make it look like the opening into the canal is wide open.

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