First Aid to Ear Problems and Injuries

If a person’s ear is bleeding after he or she has suffered a blow to the head and the person is unconscious, immediately medical attention is necessary. If the person is conscious, you should inspect the ear to look for the source of the bleeding and treat the injury accordingly.

Sometimes an ear injury can look worse than it really is; a surface cut can cause profuse bleeding and can appear to be serious, but you should treat the injury only for what it is a cut. Once you’ve ruled out simple cuts or head injuries, you can begin ear aid.

Before we get into some of the injuries that can occur in the ear, let’s go over the three NEVERs in ear first aid care. When you’re helping someone with an ear injury, make sure you:

  • Never put anything inside a damaged ear.
  • Never try to stop the bleeding. This is one case when bleeding is encouraged. If you try to stop it, the blood can back up and seep into the inner ear. Stuffing cotton balls in the ear to clot fluids is a definite no-no!
  • Never shake, jiggle, or thump a person’s head to restore hearing. Contrary to what you might see in cartoons, people are not pinball machines.

Contrary to popular belief, swimmer’s ear that uncomfortable, swollen feeling with the accompanying swishing sound does not come from too much water in the ear or from eardrum damage caused by too much swimming. It’s an inflammation or infection of the outer ear canal. Swimmer’s ear can be caused by bacteria, or, like athlete’s foot, it can also be a fungus.

The main symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain, with possible swelling, redness, and itchiness. Over time, the ear can become clogged, resulting in a loss of hearing. There can also be a drainage of pus from the ear.

You should make an appointment with your doctor; in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain of swimmer’s ear:

  • Place a heating pad (set to medium) on the ear to help ease the soreness.
  • Sit up as much as possible, even propping yourself up in bed with pillows. This allows blood to drain away from the ears so there’s less stuffiness.
  • Drink lots of water and juice. Liquids not only help flush away infection, but the act of swallowing helps clear your ear canals.
  • Chew gum. Chewing a piece of gum or food (and yawning) also helps clear the ear canals and ease the pain.
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as Motrin or Advil. Tylenol, too, will help control the pain.

Although it sounds crazy, an insect buzzing around your head can fly into your ear and become stuck. And insects are only one of the many foreign objects that can enter the ear and cause damage. Many children also have the delightful habit of testing out their nimble fingers and dexterity on tiny toys, jacks, beads, food, or coins and putting them compactly and complacently in their ears.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to removing foreign objects from the ear:

  1. If the object is a live insect, put a drop or two of mineral oil, baby oil, or vegetable oil in the ear canal. The oil will kill the insect.
  2. If you can clearly see the object in the person’s ear, remove it carefully with a pair of tweezers, but only if the object is near the surface.
  3. If you cannot see the object clearly or if it’s lodged in the ear canal, tilt the sufferer’s head to the same side as the injured ear.
  4. Gently shake his or her head in this position.
  5. If this doesn’t work, leave the victim alone. Attempting to remove a deep or embedded object can damage the ear. Call for professional help.

Even if you get the foreign object out of the ear, you should seek medical help. With an otoscope (an instrument that magnifies the eardrum), a professional can determine whether all the material has been removed.


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