Man Catches Infection In His Skull After Cleaning Ear With Q-Tips

The unnamed patient, from the Coventry area, had been suffering from seizures, headaches, ear pain and discharge from his left ear. (Source)

He struggles to remember people’s names in the days leading up to his hospitalisation, and had been vomiting. His GP had been treating him for a severe ear infection without any luck – and hospital doctors discovered the real problem was a cotton bud buried inside his skull.

Doctors at the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust treated the man and Ear, nose and throat specialist Alexander Charlton documented the case in journal BMJ Case Reports.

They found the inside of his ear canal was ‘inflamed and filled with discharge/debris with… [an] overlying impacted cotton bud’. It is unclear how long the cotton bud had been in his ear but he had been suffering from hearing loss on that side for five years.

Medics pulled out the cotton bud and debris and diagnosed the man with an uncommon infection called necrotising otitis externa.

The infection is usually caused by bacteria and affects the ear canal, surrounding bone and – in the case of this patient – tissue inside the skull, but not the brain.

CT scans doctors used to diagnose him show abscesses inside the skull, in the form of small empty spaces between his bone and brain.

After his ear was cleared out and he was hooked up to intravenous antibiotics, he made a full recovery after 10 weeks.


On the NHS website it states fingers and objects like cotton buds should never be used to clean ear wax, which it says often falls out on its own. However if it doesn’t, it is recommended using a few drops of olive oil or almond oil in your ears, twice a day, for a few days. The wax should then fall out, usually in your sleep, over a two week period.

Inserting a bud could damage the ear canal and eardrum and push wax further down. The ear canal is ‘self-cleaning’, with excess wax falling out on its own, and that the entrance to the ears can be cleaned with a damp flannel.

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