SYDNEY - A man in Australia endured a painful hospital visit after a large cockroach burrowed into his ear and his efforts to suck it out with a vacuum cleaner failed.
Darwin-based Hendrik Helmer's ordeal began in the early hours of Wednesday morning when he was woken by a sharp pain in his right ear, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said.
"I was hoping it was not a poisonous spider... I was hoping it didn't bite me," he said, adding that as the pain got worse he tried to suck the insect out with a vacuum cleaner before squirting water in his ear.
"Whatever was in my ear didn't like it at all," he told the broadcaster Friday.
With the pain becoming excruciating, his flatmate rushed him to hospital where a doctor put oil down the ear canal.
This only forced the two centimetre (0.8 inch) roach to crawl in deeper, before it eventually began to die.
"Near the 10 minute mark ... somewhere about there, he started to stop burrowing but he was still in the throes of death twitching," said Helmer.
At that point the doctor put forceps into his ear and pulled out the cockroach.
"She (the doctor) said, 'You know how I said a little cockroach, that may have been an underestimate'," he said.
"They said they had never pulled an insect this large out of someone's ear."
Helmer told ABC he would not be taking any added precautions when sleeping, although friends of his said they were so perturbed by his experience that they had begun going to bed with headphones on.
What to do if it happens to you
According to doctors interviewed by YourHealth, as unnerving as it may sound, getting an insect like a cockroach stuck in the ear is actually quite a common problem encountered by both children and adults.
Dr Barrie Tan, Consultant at the Dept of Otolaryngology at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) said in the emergency setting, he sees such cases about once every three months.
This is unsurprising as insects like cockroaches like dark corners, and hence are attracted to crevices such as ears, he added. In fact, they can get stuck in even nasal and throat passages.
"This is especially commonly encountered in young children and patients with mental and psychological impairment," said Dr Yuen Heng Wai, Consultant at the Ear, Nose & Throat Department of Changi General Hospital.
Besides cockroaches, he said he has seen ants, moths and even bees stuck in ears before.
And his encounters do not just involve animate objects. He has seen strange objects such as buttons, batteries, pencil lead tips, matchsticks, pieces of paper, erasers and ball bearings getting wedged in ears.
Most of the time, these objects end up where they are when patients use them to clean their ears, he added.
What to do if it happens to you
"This is especially important when the object is an insect or something potentially harmful.
"An insect trapped in the ear will desperately try to escape and with its claws, would potentially inflict damages on the eardrum or ear canal," said Dr Yuen.
Other harmful objects include button batteries, which could short circuit or leak, causing damage to the ear and hearing.
Leaving them inside the ear is not an option as many retained objects can cause an infection in the ear, he said.
In an event that medical help is not immediately available, Dr Tan advised patients to get some olive oil and pour about four to five drops into the ear.
"Most of the time, when an insect is trapped in the ear, its legs are moving and can hit against the ear drums," he said, adding that the movement can cause pain and discomfort to the patient.
In addition, if the insect thrashes about too violently, it can not only cause abrasions and lacerations, but also tear a hole in the ear drum and damage the fragile bones and ligaments there.
The oil serves to drown the insect so it stops moving. In the process, it also helps to prevent the insect from having too firm a grip on the eardrum and ear canal, minimising the potential damage it can cause, said Dr Yuen.
Any oil-based liquid substance would do the trick.
Dr Tan cautioned against using water to drown the insect. Drowning the insect in water is likely to cause the insect to swell up, making it bigger and harder to remove later.
If in doubt, call the hotline of an emergency department.
What NOT to do
What NOT to do
Whatever the case, it is important not to attempt to extract the object, animate or inanimate, by yourself.
Do not try to remove the insect, Dr Yuen stressed. If it's alive, it will only make the insect struggle more and inflict more damage.
Even if the object is inanimate or dead, it is highly likely that an untrained person would end up removing more than the object.
Go to a hospital to seek emergency help if possible. Although a general practitioner would also be able to extract the insect, hospital doctors have access to more tools such as microscopes, which allow doctors to see what they are doing clearly.
"The doctor would be able to remove the object or insect with the help of a microscope and fine instruments," said Dr Yuen.
"Often suction instruments are also used to retrieve the object or insect. Depending on the nature and size of the object, anaesthetic injection, sprays or medication might be necessary to 'numb' the ear canal prior to removal," he added.
Hence, removal is usually pain-free.
After the extraction, the eardrum and ear canal will be inspected to ensure no serious damage has been done.