Ear injuries due to foreign objects

Children are prone to develop infections of the inner ear, which may have spread from the respiratory tract up the Eustachian tubes into the ears.

Anatomy of the ear

Anatomy of the ear and its connection with the respiratory tract via the Eustachian tubes on each side of the head. (Source: WHO, 2006, Primary Ear and Hearing Care Training Resource: Trainer's Manual – Intermediate Level, p.16)

Another very common ear problem in children is caused when they put foreign objects into the ear canal (on the left of the figure above) when they are playing. They often put small objects such as beans, peas, rice, beads, fruit seeds or small stones into their ears. If these foreign bodies remain in the ear for a long time, they make it more likely that the child will develop an ear infection. This in turn may lead to a loss of hearing, if untreated. You should suspect the possibility of something foreign in a child's ear if the child complains of pain in the affected ear, a bad smell or discharge comes from the ear (figure below), or the parents or school teacher tell you that the child doesn't seem to hear them talking if they speak into that ear.

Pus discharge from ear infection

Pus discharge as a result of chronic ear infection (otitis media). (Photo: WHO, 2006, Primary Ear and Hearing Care Training Resource: Student's Workbook – Intermediate Level, p.53)

Simple removal of a foreign object from the ear helps to reduce the risk of deafness resulting from chronic (long-term) infection (see figure below). Shine a torch into the child's ear and if the foreign object is visible, try to remove it by using a thin blunt instrument – the end must not be sharp! If the ear drum is broken or scarred by infection, the child could suffer some permanent hearing loss in that ear. If you don't see a foreign object when you look into the ear with a torch, transfer the child to the nearest health facility for specialist help. If there is any discharge from the ear, the child will need medical treatment with antibiotics.

Foreign object being carefully removed

Foreign object being carefully removed from a child's ear by a thin blunt instrument. (Diagram: Dr Radmila Mileusnic)

Be careful not to push the instrument too far into the ear, or you may puncture the delicate ear drum!

In the next study session you will study another important but often neglected topic for your health promotion and disease prevention practice – oral health and the prevention of dental problems.

Last modified: Tuesday, 15 July 2014, 7:23 PM