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Buzzing That Boy Heard Was a Tick on His Eardrum

 

David Kasle, M.D. and Erik Waldman, M.D. of Yale-New Haven Hospital shared the misadventures of their 9-year-old patient in this month’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The young Connecticut boy had felt like something had managed to get into his ear while he was playing during recess, along with an incessant buzzing noise. (1)

He was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered that a tick had crawled into his ear and buried itself into his eardrum membrane, which had become noticeably inflamed. After a failed attempt to remove the tick in the hospital room with the help of an operative microscope, the boy was brought into an operating room to have the tick removed under general anesthesia.

Luckily, “After extraction of the tick, the patient had no signs or symptoms suggestive of systemic illness,” Kasle and Waldman reported.

More Common Than You Might Think

Dr. Darius Kohan, director of otology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City told WebMD that hospital and family doctor visits to remove insects from ear canals is a “frequent occurrence”. “We have often removed roaches, flies, all sort of bugs, including ticks, attached to the canal or eardrum,” he continued.  “Fortunately, the bugs usually do not survive for long, and they are not difficult to remove,” he said.

“For children, we take them to the operating room for sedation since it is difficult for them to cooperate in the office during a procedure. For adults, usually a local anesthetic in the ear is all they need. If the bug is alive, irrigating the ear with mineral oil and waiting 10 minutes usually suffices to kill them before we remove them under microscopic guidance or with endoscopes.” (2)

Watch Out for Symptoms of a Foreign Object in the Ear

Children under the age of five and adults affected by cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease are more at risk of having small foreign objects lodged in their ear canals. For those who aren’t able to communicate a change in hearing or discomfort in their ear, be alert for ear redness, foul smelling liquid draining from ear,  or behavior that indicates ear discomfort such as scratching at ear or tilting head to one side. (3)

Unlike most small objects, small watch batteries can cause serious damage within just a few hours of being stuck in the ear. If you suspect that a watch battery is to blame, you should seek urgent medical care immediately. Other objects such as dry foods or insects usually do not pose threat of infection until after 24 hours. (3)

Watch Out for Symptoms of a Foreign Object in the Ear

Children under the age of five and adults affected by cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease are more at risk of having small foreign objects lodged in their ear canals. For those who aren’t able to communicate a change in hearing or discomfort in their ear, be alert for ear redness, foul smelling liquid draining from ear,  or behavior that indicates ear discomfort such as scratching at ear or tilting head to one side. (3)

Unlike most small objects, small watch batteries can cause serious damage within just a few hours of being stuck in the ear. If you suspect that a watch battery is to blame, you should seek urgent medical care immediately. Other objects such as dry foods or insects usually do not pose threat of infection until after 24 hours. (3)

More Common Causes of Ringing or Buzzing in Ears

There are many reasons for experiencing ringing or buzzing in the ears that are far less creepy-crawly. These can include: (4)

  • Age related hearing loss
  • Loud noises
  • Ear wax buildup
  • Some prescription medications, including  aspirin, diuretics, (NSAIDs), quinine-based medication, some antibiotics, some antidepressants, and some cancer drugs
  • Ear infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Jaw or temporomandibular joint problems
  • High or raised blood pressure
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Lyme disease

Some causes of ear ringing (tinnitus) can be soothed with home remedies, but it’s important to discuss your concerns with your medical care provider.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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