What would you do if you were on a camping trip in the backcountry and you or someone in your group woke up with an object lodged in the ear canal? Strange as it may sound, this can happen to just about anyone in the outdoors. Whether you are sleeping in a tent or just walking through the woods, an insect can fly or crawl into your ear canal, causing pain and distress. What can be done if this happens? Here are a few suggestions for dealing with foreign object lodged in the ear canal.
An inanimate foreign object such as a stone or piece of bark can be left in the ear until an ear specialist can remove it. You will need to make arrangements to get the patient out of the backcountry, which may take a while since they will be in pain and their equilibrium may be affected.
If the patient is very uncomfortable, you may want to try using gravity. Tilt the head or lay the patient on the affected side to see if you can dislodge the object. DO NOT dig around in the ear with a paperclip, stick or Q-tip. This can gouge the external ear and is not recommended. In addition, it could further lodge the object against the highly sensitive eardrum, causing excruciating pain and making the object even more difficult to remove.
If the object is an insect, the primary goal is to get the insect out of the ear canal before it causes damage by either biting or stinging the patient. Ideally, you want to get the insect to leave on its own accord or remove it without causing it to struggle or move around in a way that causes significant pain.
If a live creature such as a bee, ant or spider enters the external ear canal and causes pain that is unendurable, the ear should be filled with 2-4% liquid lidocaine (topical anesthetic), which will slowly numb the ear and drown the insect at the same time. If lidocaine is not available, mineral oil can be used with the caution that it will frequently cause the insect to struggle, which may result in a sting or bite. Once the insect is dead (which may take a few minutes), an attempt can be made to gently remove it with tweezers. If you cannot see part of the bug, do not attempt this, as you may push it farther into the ear canal or even rupture the eardrum.
When in the wilderness, prevention is key! If you are going to be sleeping in an environment where there is a likelihood of insects having access to your ears, you may wish to consider using earplugs, earmuffs or perhaps even tying a bandana around your head in such a way that it covers your ears.