There's What in His Ear?!
Little kids have little ears--but are enormously curious. And the results of their
Does it seem ironic that an item intended for ears is at the top of the danger list? In fact, cotton swabs are listed twice on the hospital’s display—both the swabs and the applicators are frequently removed.
The earful: Use cotton swabs only around the outer folds of babies’ and kids’ ears, never inside the ear canal themselves. “They are the number one cause of ear wax impaction in kids, although parents use them with the intent to remove wax,” says Dr. Greg Germain, MD, a pediatrician and teacher at the Yale School of Medicine. (Many manufacturers even make specific baby cotton swabs which wick away moisture using a unique design that doesn’t necessitate the swab entering the ear canal.) Also, never let kids run or play with cotton swabs in their ears: If a child falls, a swab could tear the ear canal or rupture the ear drum, says Dr. Germain.
Perfectly sized for toddlers’ developing pincer grasps, buttons are a popular ear canal “foreign body” (anything not meant to be in there). Because the ear canal is comprised of a tube of solid bone that is lined with thin, sensitive skin, it can be difficult to remove tiny foreign items—and especially painful, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Need a refresher on your ear anatomy? Click here for a diagram.)
The earful: Buttons are yet another reason to keep young kids out of mending kits (hello, needles!) and to stop putting off those mending chores.
Eeek! Little dextrous hands are amazing at disassembling everyday objects—case in point, the ends (or caps) of pens. As with beads and other tiny plastic parts, younger kids may attempt to stick these items in their noses.
The earful: According to the NIH, use these steps if you see your child stick something in her ear:
1) Calm and reassure her—flailing or moving too much may lodge the object in further.
2) If the object is sticking out and easy to remove, gently remove it by hand or with tweezers. Then, get medical help to make sure the entire object was removed.
3) If you think a small object may be lodged within the ear, but you cannot see it, DO NOT reach inside the ear canal with tweezers. You can do more harm than good.
4) Try using gravity to get the object out by tilting the head to the affected side. DO NOT strike the person’s head. Shake it gently in the direction of the ground to try to dislodge the object.
5) If the object doesn’t come out, get medical help.
Yet another item intended for ears that goes awry in little hands. The main issue with earrings is that their sharp posts may pierce the canal (or drum, if pushed too far in). Also, says Dr. Germain, “We surgically extract way too many earrings which become embedded inside the ear lobe itself.”
The earful: Your doctor may refer you to an ear-nose-throat specialist (ENT) if the earring is precariously lodged. “They have gentle vacuum suction and an operating microscope in their office which make extraction easier and safer,” says Dr. Germain. “I have also had a few younger patients who needed general anesthesia and the operating room to have a foreign body removed in the ultimate of controlled settings.” Let that be a warning: Keep your jewelry box away from your kids’ dress-up area. And perhaps consider waiting to pierce your child’s ears until she’s old enough to have the control to handle earrings safely. While some docs will pierce even newborns’ ears, Dr. Germain’s practice won’t until a child turns 5.
Mechanical toys and everyday household items (staplers, pens) contain these little metal coils, which may be long enough to remove yourself if Captain Curious decides to poke inside his ears with one.
The earful: If the coil is especially long or has a sharp edge that’s inserted first, it could perforate or rupture the eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane). Symptoms include pain, pus, or bleeding, according to the NIH. See your child’s doctor if you suspect a perforation. With springs (and especially with cotton swabs), “there is also the rare but significant risk of dislocating the ear bones. This is a very big deal,” says Dr. Germain. Symptoms include severe dizziness, vomiting, and difficulty with balance.
Moths, Flies, and Other Flying Insects
As an adult, you know how scary the bzzzz of an insect near—let alone inside—your ear is. Just imagine how your high-strung toddler might react.
The earful: Use these insect removal tips from the NIH:
1) DO NOT let the child put a finger in her ear, since this may make the insect sting.
2) Turn her head so that the affected side is up, and wait to see if the insect flies or crawls out.
3) If this doesn’t work, try pouring mineral oil, olive oil, or baby oil into the ear. As you pour the oil, pull the ear lobe gently backward and upward for an adult, or backward and downward for a child. The insect should suffocate and may float out in the oil. (AVOID using oil to remove any object other than an insect, since oil can cause other kinds of objects to swell.)
Beetles and Bugs
“When I was a resident, I got a call from the emergency department triage nurse who thought the eight-year-old patient who just arrived was having seizures. On evaluation, he had a cockroach in his ear! It was still alive!” recounts Dr. Germain. This is not an uncommon foreign body in the ear, he says—the little buggers like warm, dark tunnels.
The earful: After you finish shuddering, try to pick the bug or beetle out with a tweezers, or drown them in baby oil or mineral oil and take them out later, Dr. Germain says.
Like buttons, seeds’ flat appearance, for whatever reason, seems to trigger kids’ coin-in-a-slot tendencies. The embarrassing but obvious question is: If left unattended, will they grow in your little sprout’s ear?
The earful: Nope, says Dr. Germain. “I have yet to see a child in the office with a tomato plant sprouting from his ear canal,” he says. “Seeds have access to neither water nor soil to grow properly, although anything is possible!”
One moment your toddler is chomping on a cherry; the next, she’s squealing and holding her ear. May sound implausible, but you’d be surprised by the number of pits Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital docs have had to remove.
The earful: Because they may still be wet from snacking, pits tend to be difficult for parents to remove. These typically warrant a trip to the pediatrician.
While beans and peas tend to be common nose invaders, peanuts are frequently trespassers in the ear canal, especially around the holidays or during family gatherings when nuts are often out on tables.
The earful: Like pits, the shape and fragility of peanuts make them worthy of a trip to your doctor. But unlike pits, if a peanut is in the ear canal for any extended period of time, it can start to soften and break down, making extraction much more difficult, says Dr. Germain.
Quick: How many small, electronic toys does your child play with regularly? It’s no wonder that button batteries (and even tinier ones, often found in hearing aids) pose a prevalent concern for little ears. And these rank among the most dangerous objects lodged in kids’ ears (or swallowed or stuck up their noses), says Dr. Germain. “They can erode and damage the mucous membranes over time if not detected right away,” he says.
The earful: Visit your pediatrician as soon as you suspect the battery is lodged. He may consult an ENT for more precise removal and to check that the battery acid hasn’t already damaged the ear drum or ear canal.
These even look like earplugs, but erasers have no place in your child’s ear canal, especially if they have pencil wood or graphite shavings on them—both can further irritate the ear.
The earful: Because of erasers’ size and shape, you probably can remove these with your fingers or tweezers.
Objects Gone Unnoticed
Concerned your child may have ear inhabitants you don’t know about? Don’t worry too much, says Dr. Germain. “The ear canal is designed to produce wax and push it out the canal in a spiral fashion and to push out foreign bodies as well,” he says. “If left alone, most loosely fitting foreign bodies will remove themselves. That’s how ear tubes come out six to 18 months after they are placed by the ENT. But a tight-fitting foreign body could cause irritation, bleeding, pain, and interrupt the ear canal’s natural ability to push the object out.” And Dr. Germain has seen his share of unexpected discoveries. “Many foreign bodies are removed during well checks in my practice. On routine exam, a bead is found and removed to the surprise of the unsuspecting parents!”
It's no wonder that small children sometimes become frightened when visiting the doctor's office. After all, there are plenty of adults out there who are anxious about visiting the doctor, too. Here are 10 ways to calm your child’s fear of the doctor.view gallery
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