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Ear emergencies

Ear emergencies include objects in the ear canal, ruptured eardrums, sudden hearing loss, and severe infections.

Images

Ruptured eardrum
External and internal ear
Foreign object removal
Foreign object in ear

Considerations

Children often put objects into their ears. These objects can be hard to remove. The ear canal is a tube of solid bone that is lined with thin, sensitive skin. Any object pressing against the skin can be very painful. In many cases, a health care provider will need to use special instruments to examine the ear and safely remove the object.

Causes

Pain, hearing loss, dizziness, ringing in the ear, and ruptured eardrums can be caused by:

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

First Aid

Depending on the type of ear emergency, follow the steps below.

OBJECT IN THE EAR

Calm and reassure the person.

INSECT IN THE EAR

DO NOT let the person put a finger in the ear. This may make the insect sting.

RUPTURED EARDRUM

The person will have severe pain.

CUTS ON THE OUTER EAR

Apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops.

DRAINAGE FROM INSIDE THE EAR

Cover the outside of the ear with a sterile dressing shaped to the contour of the ear, and tape it loosely in place.

Do Not

If someone has an ear emergency, remember the following:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Some symptoms may mean you have had serious injury to your ear. See a provider if you have:

Prevention

Follow these steps to prevent ear emergencies:

If you tend to feel pain and pressure in your ears when flying:

Related Information

Acoustic trauma

References

Goodloe JM, Skoulek J. Foreign bodies. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 51.

Matlock AG, Pfaff JA. Otolaryngology. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 58.

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Review Date: 5/30/2022  

Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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