External auditory canal foreign body removal: management practices and outcomes

Laryngoscope. 2003 Nov;113(11):1912-5. doi: 10.1097/00005537-200311000-00010.


Objectives/hypothesis: The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of external auditory canal foreign body removal attempts by health care practitioners and to explore outcomes of patients with unsuccessful initial removal attempts.

Study design: Retrospective case series.

Methods: A case series of patients presenting with external auditory canal foreign body to the emergency department of the authors' institution (Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center) over a 3-year period was studied retrospectively. Medical records were reviewed, and information including age at presentation, type of foreign body, side of presentation, length of time in place, signs and symptoms at presentation, management practices, and outcomes was recorded.

Results: One hundred sixty-two patients with a diagnosis of external auditory canal foreign body were identified. Emergency personnel successfully managed 67% of patients using direct visualization techniques, and 33% required otolaryngological consultation. Otolaryngologists used otomicroscopy with standard otological instruments as their mainstay of management. Analysis of successfully managed emergency department cases revealed that 82% of foreign bodies were irregularly shaped objects with soft, graspable parts. Conversely, 72% of foreign bodies in otolaryngology referrals were firm, rounded objects such as beads and beans. Analysis of patients referred to otolaryngologists revealed a requirement for removal under anesthesia of 19%. Patients with a history of one or more removal attempts before emergency department evaluation universally failed further direct visualization techniques. A disproportionate number of these patients eventually required operative intervention and/or had tympanic membrane perforation. Patients with a history of previous removal attempt(s) who were referred directly to otolaryngologists were more likely to be successfully managed without general anesthesia.

Conclusion: Emergency room personnel successfully manage the majority of patients with foreign bodies of the external auditory canal. For patients with firm, rounded objects, direct otolaryngology consultation without further manipulation should be strongly considered. Patients who have had previous removal attempts should not undergo further manipulation in the emergency department but rather should be referred directly to an otolaryngologist.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ear, External*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Female
  • Foreign Bodies / diagnosis*
  • Foreign Bodies / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies