Ear Emergencies

Some ear problems, such as ear infections and earwax blockages, are not actually emergencies. Nevertheless, earaches could indicate a more serious problem and should not be taken lightly. If you have a persistent earache, call your doctor’s office for advice.

What to look for:

  • earache, which could be painful and persistent
  • hearing loss or difficulty
  • ringing in the ear
  • swelling or redness inside the ear
  • blood or other fluids draining from the ear
  • dizziness, nausea or vomiting

If blood or fluids are draining from the ear and you suspect that the victim has a head injury, call 911 or go to an emergency facility immediately, then follow this procedure:

  • Loosely cover the ear with a clean cloth, and tape it in place.
  • Do not try to clean the ear or try to stop the drainage.
  • If awaiting medical help, lay the person flat on her or his back.

What to look for:

  • Earache, which could be painful and persistent;
  • Hearing loss or difficulty;
  • Ringing in the ear;
  • Swelling or redness inside the ear;
  • Blood or other fluids draining from the ear;
  • Dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

ear emergencies

If an eardrum has burst and the victim suddenly experiences the symptoms above, call a doctor immediately. To prevent infection:

  • Cover the ear with a dry, sterile pad;
  • Give an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or aspirin.

Caution: Never give aspirin or acetaminophen to a child under 12 who has chicken pox, flu, or any other illness you suspect of being caused by a virus, such as bad respiratory infection.

What to look for:

  • earache, which could be painful and persistent
  • hearing loss or difficulty
  • ringing in the ear
  • swelling or redness inside the ear
  • blood or other fluids draining from the ear
  • dizziness, nausea or vomiting

If a foreign object is in the ear, shake the object out:

  • Tilt the person’s head so that the affected ear is nearest the ground.
  • Ask the person to shake his or her head, or shake it for the person.
  • You may be able to help dislodge the object by straightening the ear canal; do so by gently pulling the top of the ear up and toward the back of the head.
  • To pick the object out if it does not fall out:
    • Look into the person’s ear; if you can see the object and it is flexible — but not a live insect — carefully try to remove it with a pair of tweezers.
    • If the object is embedded so deeply that you cannot see it or the tip of the tweezers when you touch it, do not try to remove it; go to an emergency facility for medical help.

Caution: Do not push or poke any object that is in the ear. Do not try to pick out a hard object such as a bean or a bead. Do not try to remove an object from the ear of a child who will not keep still. Do not hit the victim’s head to try to dislodge an object.

What to look for:

  • earache, which could be painful and persistent
  • hearing loss or difficulty; ringing in the ear
  • swelling or redness inside the ear
  • blood or other fluids draining from the ear
  • dizziness, nausea or vomiting

If a live insect is inside the ear:

  • Kill the insect by pouring a small amount of oil, vinegar or alcohol into the ear; this will also help ease the pain.
  • Tilt the victim’s head so that the affected ear is nearest the sky.
  • Gently pull the victim’s earlobe backward and upward, and pour in warm — not hot — mineral oil, olive oil or baby oil; the insect should float out of the ear.

Caution: Do not push or poke any object that is in the ear. Do not try to pick out a hard object such as a bean or a bead. Do not try to remove an object from the ear of a child who will not keep still. Do not hit the victim’s head to try to dislodge an object.

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