As temperatures continue to drop, there's nothing more we'd love to do than stay cozy indoors, surrounded by blankets and a warm cup of tea at hand. However, if your favorite thing about winter is staying snug as a bug in a rug, be aware that you're not alone: Actual bugs such as spiders, beetles, and roaches will also be on the lookout for warm hideaways — and this may sometimes lead them to seek shelter in a place we wouldn't expect: human ears.
“Bugs like to crawl in small, warm, dark places. A body orifice fills that bill nicely,” Susan L. Besser, MD, a primary care provider at Baltimore’s Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea tells FirstforWomen.com. “I can’t really tell you which bugs are more inclined to do this, but I have seen quite a variety of beetles, crickets, roaches, ticks, and other assorted bugs in ears in my career as a family physician.”
Though there’s no exact data tracking the number of insects that have been found in people’s ears, there are plenty of goosebump-inducing anecdotes. In April, a woman in Florida rushed to the ER in the middle of the night after finding a roach burrowing in her ear canal. Another Florida resident’s ear became a temporary roach motel a month later. (And the Sunshine State connection is no coincidence: a 2017 survey found that nine out of the 10 cities with most reported roach infestations were in the South.)
What to Do If You Have a Bug Stuck in Your Ear
In the unfortunate event that you feel little legs crawling inside your ear this winter, the most important thing to do is not panic. Critters who enter the outer ear often get stuck in ear wax, so scratching at them could intensify their kicks, says Aileen M. Marty, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University College of Medicine.
“Its struggles include scraping its legs and other parts against the ear canal, causing abrasions, cuts, or bites,” Dr. Marty tells FirstforWomen.com. “This makes the ear feel ‘itchy,’ so the person tends to scratch and cause more abrasions.”
According to medical experts, the easiest way to dislodge a stubborn bug is to float it out: Pour mineral oil, olive oil, or baby oil into the upturned ear, wait a minute or two, then tilt your head over a sink and gently rinse your ear canal with warm water. “You will know it’s dead when you don’t feel the movement or hear the buzzing in your ear,” says Dr. Besser, adding that rubbing alcohol can also paralyze and kill the bug.
If the oil doesn’t work or you begin to experience pain or discharge from the ear canal, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. Don’t use a cotton swab or other object to dig out the insect, as mistakes can lead to severe complications. “The eardrum can be perforated, the bone near the ear can then become infected, and there may be permanent hearing loss,” says Marty.
Overall, avoid leaving food in your bed that might attract unwanted visitors, and be mindful of your surroundings before nestling in those layers of blankets. One more tip: If you want to be extra careful, ear plugs are a perfect way to show scavenging bugs that there are no vacancies in your ears.