How are foreign bodies in the external auditory canal (EAC) managed, and which represents a medical emergency?

Updated: Mar 09, 2020
  • Author: Ariel A Waitzman, MD, FRCSC; Chief Editor: Ravindhra G Elluru, MD, PhD  more...
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Foreign bodies in the EAC are not infrequently encountered. In children, the appearance of these foreign bodies is variable; parts of toys or even food may be found in the EAC. In adults, fragments of cotton swabs are the most common finding. Erythema and edema surrounding the foreign body are commonly present. Depending on the patient’s ability to cooperate, the foreign body may be removed under a microscope with the aid of microinstruments. 

Hearing aid or watch batteries can sometimes end up in the ear canal accidentally, both in the pediatric and in the adult population. Time to onset of symptoms can range from a few hours to a day. Like batteries accidentally placed anywhere in the body, batteries in the ear canal represent a medical emergency. Therefore, expeditious identification and removal are absolutely necessary.

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