Presentation and management of aural foreign bodies in two Australian emergency departments

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To survey and compare the type and management of foreign bodies found in adult and paediatric ears presenting to an Australian otorhinolaryngology and a general ED.


Retrospective case study with data collated from two centres. Chart reviews of a total of 330 patients presenting with aural foreign bodies to the ED of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and the ED of The Bendigo Hospital, both situated in the state of Victoria, Australia, were surveyed for patient demographics, foreign body description and referral and removal pattern.


Two hundred and seventeen adults and 113 children were included in the study. The most common foreign bodies in children were beads, cotton tips, insects and paper, and in adults cotton tips, insects, cotton wool and silicone ear plugs. Flying insects were far more common in the Australian population than cockroaches found in surveys in other countries. Children were significantly more likely to have initially been seen by their Local Medical Officer than adults (P < 0.001) and to require a general anaesthetic for removal of the object(s) (P < 0.001). Adults were more likely to have associated otitis externa at the time of presentation (P < 0.05).


Aural foreign bodies are a frequent presentation to the ED. Recognition of patients requiring early specialist referral is important. Adults present with a different profile of aural foreign objects to children and require different management. The use of cotton tips or cotton wool in the external ear canal and silicone ear plugs should be discouraged.

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