Cotton, pieces of pencils, paper, pebbles, and beans are just a few of the many objects children put in their ears and nose. Insects sometimes crawl into ears and cause substantial pain.
In the Ear:
Objects in the ear can be removed by flushing the ear canal with sterile water or saline or using suction, forceps, or other tools. Doctors may remove an insect by putting a topical anesthetic or mineral oil in the ear, which kills the insect, stops pain, and makes removal easier. Younger, more frightened children may need to be sedated or to be given a general anesthetic for these procedures.
Sharp objects, such as pencils, can pierce (perforate) the eardrum. Perforations require evaluation by an ear specialist, but most heal by themselves over time without loss of hearing.
In the Nose:
Objects stuck up the nose are of particular concern because they can block the airway, cause infection, and be difficult to remove. Children are often scared to admit they put an object in their nose. Many parents become aware of the problem only when a child's nose bleeds persistently, is runny, or has a foul-smelling discharge or when the child has difficulty breathing on only one side of the nose.
Doctors use a topical anesthetic and attempt to remove the object using suction or forceps. If these measures do not work, doctors may need to sedate children or give them a general anesthetic to remove the object.
Last full review/revision January 2009 by Robert J. Ruben, MD