When Your Child Has an Object in the Ear or Nose

Small children tend to put objects, such as food or toys, in their ears and noses. These objects can get stuck. This can lead to infection or problems with hearing or breathing. An object put in the nose can even be inhaled into the lung. So removing an object stuck in the ear or nose requires medical attention. This sheet helps you recognize the symptoms of a blockage in your child’s ear or nose. It also helps you prevent this kind of blockage. 

Front view of ear showing object stuck in ear canal and eardrum with fluid buildup. Side view of child's face showing stuck object in nose with fluid buildup.

Symptoms of blockage in the ear or nose

Your child may have an object stuck in the ear or nose if:

  • The ear has any of the following:

    • Pain

    • Drainage

    • Hearing loss

    • Irritation (child picks at or plays with the ear)

  • The nose has any of the following:

    • Bad smelling, yellowish, or bloody drainage

    • Blocked breathing from one side of the nose

A blockage sometimes causes no symptoms at all.

Never try to remove an object from your child’s ear or nose. You can push the object in further, causing damage and making the object harder to remove. Trying to remove the object without proper tools can also make your child’s ear or nose sore and painful. This will make your child less likely to cooperate when the primary care doctor or otolaryngologist or ENT doctor (who specializes in care of the ear, nose, and throat) tries to remove the object later.

Objects most commonly stuck in children’s ears or noses

Children often place small objects in their ears and noses. Objects commonly stuck include beads, buttons, coins, and toy parts. Small pieces of food (such as raisins, beans, or popcorn) are also common.

Beware of batteries

Keep small batteries such as those used in watches, cameras, and hearing aids, away from children. These button-like batteries can easily get stuck in the ear or nose. If they become stuck, acid from the battery can leak out and burn the inside of the ear or nose. So be sure to properly store and dispose of these batteries.

If an object is stuck in the ear or nose

Call your child’s doctor. He or she may have you come into the office or may refer you to an ENT doctor. An ENT doctor has the tools needed to remove an object from the ear or nose. In the meantime:

  • Don’t try to remove an object from your child’s ear or nose. This can push the object in further and cause more damage.

  • Don’t use a cotton swab to remove an object. You will only push the object in further.

  • Don’t pour anything into the ear or nose.

Removal of a stuck object

Using proper tools, the doctor will remove the object. If your child is fussing and can’t stay still, the doctor may need to swaddle or gently restrain your child to prevent damaging the ear or nose. If your child is unable to remain calm, general anesthesia (medication that allows your child to sleep) may be needed. If anesthesia is used, your child will be taken to the operating room to have the object removed. Once the object is removed, the doctor may prescribe drops or ointment to prevent infection. Apply the medication as directed. And call the doctor if there are any signs of infection such as fever or soreness of the ear or nose. If your child has a fever, call your doctor if:

  • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years older

  • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

Prevent future obstructions

To help prevent objects from getting stuck in your child’s ear or nose:

  • Keep small objects away from children.

  • Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your child’s ear canals. They tend to push in wax and can harm the eardrum. Instead, use a washcloth wet with warm water and soap. Then rinse and wipe the ear with a towel.