News & Opinion | March 16, 2019 5:00 am

Cotton Swab Stuck in Man’s Ear Causes Life-Threatening Infection

The swab was unknowingly lodged inside for five years, infection ultimately spread to this brain lining.

cotton swab
A cotton swab caused a life-threatening infection in a man's brain lining. (Getty)
Getty Images/Image Source

A rogue cotton swab was to blame for an English man’s life-threatening brain infection. The man had a seizure that finally tipped off doctors as to cause of his sickness.

The 31-year-old man’s symptoms began before the seizure occurred. He had been experiencing pain and discharge from his ear for 10 days leading up to the attack. He also experienced headaches so severe he would vomit. According to CBS News, doctors were told by the man that he had been losing hearing and experiencing pain in his left ear for almost five years.

The bacterial infection started in his ear canal, where the swab had gotten lodged years prior and then coated by earwax. The infection spread to the bone at the base of his skull and also to the lining of his brain. Luckily, the infection did not breach the lining.

Doctors diagnosed the man with “necrotizing otitis externa,” which is an infection in the soft tissue of the auditory canal—from the outside of the canal to the eardrum.

After performing minor surgery to remove the cotton swab, the man also went through two months of oral and intravenous antibiotics.

Dr. Alexander Charlton from the University Hospital Coventry in England has nothing good to say about cotton swabs: “They can only cause problems,” he told Live Science.