I’ve seen a bunch of videos circulating around lately about the biggest pimple ever popped, random foreign bodies stuck in various parts of the body, and similar. Having seen enough of this type of thing in real life at work, I’m not totally compelled to watch them; HOWEVER—someone brought up “when a live bug crawls in your ear” lately and now I just cannot help myself. Lemme tell ya, nothing gets an Emerg or Urgent Care Center going like a live insect in an ear canal. It’s like a Stephen King movie.
First- testimonial from the patient perspective. Categorically I have heard from both older and younger people on whom this moment of tragedy has fallen is that it is BY FAR THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO THEM. EVER.
They have described it as a stabbing feeling in the brain (with a large knife) or sounding like someone is crinkling a very stiff piece of paper inside their head.
Charming, huh!? Patients have told me they thought they were going crazy. I can’t even imagine.
So what should you do if this happens to you?
Priority #1: The pain and craziness must stop immediately,
so before trying to get the insect out, it has to stop moving. That means we have to kill the bug. The best way to do this is by putting some mineral oil or even baby oil into the ear canal to drown the bug. Sounds barbaric, but your sanity is worth it. I don’t recommend using alcohol because if your ear canal has sustained some scratches from the insect it could be inflamed and the alcohol will burn and hurt. Using water is ok, but sometimes that dissolves the insect’s exoskeleton (25 cent word) and the parts can be hard to remove.
Priority #2: Let’s try to remove that thing.
Some experts recommend trying to flush out the insect, but I personally haven’t had much luck with that (see above). The best results come with direct visualization of the ear canal with appropriate equipment and light, and subsequent removal with suction or a specific tool called an alligator forceps. This can be done in an urgent care office or emergency department or ENT office. The timing on the removal is a bit less critical. It’s perfectly reasonable to seek immediate care to get it done, but know that if, for some reason the team cannot remove the insect that it’s not the end of the world and you may be referred to specialty ENT for removal in the next few days. It’s probably not a good idea to leave the insect parts in the ear canal for a long time, but as long as you are pain free waiting a bit to get it out is ok. You may require some anti-inflammatory ear drops at the end of it all just to help your ear settle down but other than that it’ll be nothing more than a distant memory of a nutty science fiction movie.