After experiencing painful infections, hearing loss, and a seizure, doctors discovered a piece of the cotton swab lodged in the man's ear canal, surrounded by wax and debris.

By Joelle Goldstein
March 13, 2019
Credit: fire art/Shutterstock

A simple step in many people’s hygiene left an English man developing a near-fatal infection that spread to the lining of his brain.

Over the past five years, the man had been experiencing pain and hearing loss in his ear — something he had been treated for multiple times. It wasn’t until he had a seizure that led him to look more carefully into the problem and discover that a piece of a cotton swab stuck in his ear was causing his severe medical issues, according to Live Science.

“They can only cause problems,” Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist Dr. Alexander Charlton, who treated the man, told the outlet of using cotton swabs to clean the inside of an ear after the ordeal.

Prior to the seizure, the 31-year-old man said he had been experiencing pain and discharge from his left ear, along with severe headaches that caused him to vomit. He also had difficulty in remembering people’s names, according to the case report the BMJ medical journal.

Approximately 10 days later, when the man had the seizure and collapsed, he was rushed to the emergency room and underwent a CT scan, according to Live Science.

The scan revealed two abscesses in the bones of the base of his skull, which were located next to his left ear canal, Live Science reported. His doctors at University Hospital Coventry diagnosed the man with “necrotizing otitis externa” — an infection in the external auditory canal’s soft issue.

Dr. Charlton, who served as the lead author on the case, explained to the outlet that the man had likely contracted a severe bacterial infection that began in the ear canal, moved into the base of his skull, and eventually into the lining of his brain.

Because the infection extended into the outer edges of the brain, Dr. Charlton told Live Science that the seizure and neurological problems were likely caused by those bacterial infection’s toxins or pressure on the brain.

Shortly after his diagnosis, he underwent a minor ear canal surgery, where a piece of the cotton swab was found lodged inside in his ear, impacted and surrounded by wax and debris.

Dr. Charlton told Live Science that he believed the piece of cotton had been stuck inside for a while because of how and where it was located and it was to blame for the man’s years-long constant ear pain and infections.

Though the man required two months of intravenous and oral antibiotics to fight the infection, he surprisingly did not suffer any long-term problems to his hearing or neurological functioning, Live Science reported.

Meanwhile, Dr. Charlton, among other medical professions, are now advising people around the world to avoid using cotton swabs to clean the inside of your ears.

According to Cedars-Sinai Blog, cotton swabs can be detrimental as they push earwax deeper inside the canal and can cause ear infections, punctured eardrums, and hearing loss. In more severe cases, like the man from England, people may experience total deafness, prolonged vertigo, loss of taste, and facial paralysis.

To manually clean the ear, which isn’t always necessary because of the body’s natural ability to do so, professionals suggest using an ear lavage or syringe.


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