Sometimes, simple actions toward self-care can be harmful if not mindfully done. A man from England suffers from a deadly brain infection after using cotton bud to clean his ear.

The 31-year old experiences not only infection in his ear canal, but also in the lining of his brain, causing neurological signs and symptoms.

From Using Cotton Buds To Contracting Brain Infection

While cleaning his ear, a piece of cotton gets stuck in his ear canal. He tells doctors that he is not sure how exactly that happened. While it may sound harmless, it isn't, at least for this man.

He contracts a bacterial infection in the ear canal, which spreads to the base of his skull, the brain linings, and finally, to the meninges.

The neurological symptoms manifest more clearly as time passes. He suffers from seizures and collapsing, which warrants him to be rushed to the emergency room. According to lead author Dr. Alexander Charlton from the University Hospital Coventry in England, the seizures probably result from the toxic products of the infective bacteria or the pressure caused by the infection on the brain.

The doctors order a brain CT scan, which shows two inflamed areas at the base of his skull, near the left ear canal, filled with pus. Such finding warrants the doctors to think that the infection has reached in other areas.

The diagnosis made is necrotizing otitis externa, which translates to infection of the soft tissue in the external ear canal. The disease is usually caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It is widely linked to older adults with diabetes and those with deficient immune system.

The doctors perform a minor operation, which involves exploratory ear canal procedure, followed by search and removal of the cotton bud remnant. They find the cotton swab tip to be filled with wax and debris, suggesting that it may have been stuck there for some time.

Medical interventions include week-long hospital admission plus two months of combined intravenous and oral antibiotic treatment. Despite what seems to be a severe condition, the doctors say he doesn't have chronic hearing or cognitive impairments.

"At 10 weeks, the patient remained well, with no neurological deficit and no residual ear symptoms, and CT demonstrated complete resolution of the intracranial abscesses," the case report states.

History Of Ear Dilemmas

Upon history check, ear problems are no strangers to this man. About 10 days before the seizure, he reports having pain and discharge on his left ear. This is accompanied by severe headaches on the left side, as well as vomiting. Another key symptom is losing memory of people's names.

Deeper investigation reveals that in the last five years, the man has already been treated twice for grave left ear infection. He even reports hearing loss as part of his clinical symptoms.

The discovery of the cotton swab, according to Charlton, likely contributes to the multiple ear infections in the past, and peaking in this particularly severe display of symptoms.

First Aid Basics When Foreign Objects Get In The Ears

When foreign material becomes lodged in the body, people may panick and cause more aggravation to the situation. While seeking medical help is the top priority, it pays to know some basic tips to deal when foreign object gets stucked in the ears.

  • When trying to remove the object, don't use a tool like cotton buds or matchstick. This may only push the object farther inside, subsequently causing more damage.
  • If the material is clearly seen, flexible, and can easily be grabbed, use tweezers to carefully remove it.
  • Use positioning and gravity. Try to tilt head toward the affected side to displace the object.

Lucky for this man, his case ends on a happy note. Most probably, the doctors advise him to shy away from using cotton buds when cleaning his ears. Hopefully, the man learns his lesson after this very scary encounter with a possibly fatal condition.

The case report is published in BMJ Case Reports on March 6.

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