Earlier this week, I poked my ear canal with a Q-tip. (It says on the package you’re not supposed to use them to clean your ears; turns out, you should listen to that!) Inspired by my idiocy, I started to research the ear canal and the ear drum. Which led me to discovering some creepy crawlies that have actually taken up residence in people’s ears. This kind of horror is best borne with friends, so—after purchasing some ear plugs to wear to bed—I decided to write about it. I apologize in advance.
1. A Bed bug
According to a 2012 case report, “A 23-year-old man presented with the chief complaint of an odd sensation within his right ear. On one account, he gave the impression that his right ear was possibly blocked. In addition, however, he was convinced that there was something moving in his ear.” When the doctors examined his ear with an otoscope, they saw “a small black foreign body adherent to the central aspect of the tympanic membrane.” Repeated flushing dislodged the foreign body, which “grossly resembled an engorged tiny insect [and] proved to be a Cimex lectularius in its nymphal stage.” Yes: The guy had a bed bug nymph feeding off his ear drum (that's it above!). Aside from some irritation of his ear canal, the patient was OK; doctors noted that after the bed bug was removed, “the patient's symptoms were immediately resolved and no further ear complaints followed.”
2. A Cockroach
One night in January 2014, Darwin, Australia resident Hendrik Helmer was awakened at 2:30am by a sharp, overwhelming pain in his right ear. He suspected an insect had crawled in there while he was sleeping. After attempting to remove it himself—first by flushing his ear with water, and then using a vacuum cleaner—he went to the hospital. Doctors poured in olive oil, waited 10 minutes for the creature to die … and pulled a nearly 1-inch-long cockroach out of Helmer’s ear. "She said, 'you know how I said a little cockroach? That may have been an underestimate,'" Helmer said. “They said they had never pulled an insect this large out of someone's ear."
If you’re a fan of things that will most definitely give you nightmares, you can watch a video of a doctor removing a live cockroach from a patient’s ear on YouTube.
3. A Spider
The good news: You probably don’t swallow a ton of spiders in your sleep. The bad news: They might be crawling into your ears instead. In 2012, a Chinese woman went to the hospital complaining of an itchy ear, which she’d had for several days. When doctors examined her ear canal, they found a spider just hanging out in there. Concerned that the spider would dig in deeper if they went in with forceps, doctors chose to flush it out saline solution. Aside from being extremely traumatized, the patient was just fine.
4. A Tick
In December 2011, an Irish equine vet went to the doctor complaining of a scratching sound and irritation in his left ear, which he said he’d experienced for several weeks. "I think I have a tick in my ear," the 41-year-old vet told Christchurch Hospital head and neck surgeon Jeremy Hornibrook, who did, indeed, find a horse tick in the man’s ear. “Microscopy of the left ear showed a tick wedged in the anterior recess with its legs contacting the tympanic membrane,” aka the ear drum, “which had extensive bruising,” Hornibrook wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal. “It was tightly attached and could not be ‘drowned’ with framycetin drops, so the ear canal was anaesthetised by injection and the tick removed with a small hook.”
Hornibrook also noted that “Ears are prime real estate for this tick, although the groin and armpits are the most common sites for infestation in most hosts.”
5. A Moth
As Parker, Colorado resident Wade Schlote was trying to get to sleep one night in June 2011, he experienced something truly terrible: A miller moth crawled into the 12-year-old’s ear, and it hurt. A lot. "I had a moment of panicking,” he said. “I was in pain. It was hurting so much I was screaming and crying.”
His mother rushed him to the hospital, where doctors were skeptical but eventually came around when they saw the moth crawling around in Schlote’s ear. And unfortunately for Schlote, it didn't want to come out. "The doctors tried numbing my ear, thinking it would help with the pain and kill the moth. That didn't work,” Schlote said. “Then they tried drowning it. That didn't work. Then they tried irrigating it. That didn't work. Finally, the doctor pulled it out with tweezers and when they did it was still alive and started flying around. … I am so happy it’s over.” Doctors caught the moth and put it in a plastic container for Schlote to take home.
6. Screwworm Fly Larvae
When Rochelle Harris returned to Britain from vacation in Peru in 2013, she began to hear scratching noises in her ear. Then came the splitting headaches and the unexplained discharge. At first, doctors thought it was just an ear infection … but then they found larvae of the New World screwworm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax), which had chewed a tiny hole in her ear canal. Surgeons removed what they called a "writhing mass of maggots,” and thankfully, Harris didn’t suffer any serious injuries.