What are we putting in our ears? A consumer product analysis of aural foreign bodies

Laryngoscope. 2015 Mar;125(3):709-14. doi: 10.1002/lary.24935. Epub 2014 Oct 1.


Objectives/hypothesis: Rapid identification of foreign bodies may be crucial in deciding the appropriate course of action; and knowledge of consumer products that most commonly become aural foreign bodies (AFB) may potentially guide patient education strategies. Our objectives were to estimate the nationwide incidence of emergency department (ED) visits for consumer products presenting as AFBs and describe products encountered, demographic trends, general outcomes, and other reported aspects of injury.

Methods: The authors searched the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for AFB ED visits from 2008 to 2012. Consumer product, patient demographics, and outcomes were analyzed.

Results: There were 9,472 case entries amounting to an estimated 280,939 ED visits for AFBs. Of these, 49.3% of patients were male and 50.7% were female, with 98.2% of all patients being treated/examined and then released. Jewelry was the most common foreign body (39.4%), followed by cotton swabs/first aid equipment, paper products, pens/pencils, and desk supplies. Children between 2 and 8 years of age were most commonly affected, with jewelry as the most common item. Cotton swabs/first aid equipment predominated among adults.

Conclusions: Aural foreign bodies considerably affect health care expenditures; over 250,000 ED visits over a 5-year span were noted. Age- and gender-specific patterns reported in this analysis can serve as a valuable adjunct for history taking and clinical examination. Jewelry products predominated among children, while cotton swab/first aid products, hearing aids, and other ear-specific accessories significantly affected adults. Although children were most commonly affected, these findings highlight the need for sustained education and prevention strategies among all age groups.

Keywords: Foreign bodies; aural foreign bodies; consumer product safety; national electronic injury surveillance system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consumer Product Safety*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Ear*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foreign Bodies / diagnosis*
  • Foreign Bodies / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology