6 Times Creepy Crawlies Ended Up in People's Ears

Earlier this week, I poked my ear canal with a Q-tip. (It says on the package you’re not supposed to use them to clean your ears; turns out, you should listen to that!) Inspired by my idiocy, I started to research the ear canal and the ear drum. Which led me to discovering some creepy crawlies that have actually taken up residence in people’s ears. This kind of horror is best borne with friends, so—after purchasing some ear plugs to wear to bed—I decided to write about it. I apologize in advance.

1. A Bed bug

According to a 2012 case report, “A 23-year-old man presented with the chief complaint of an odd sensation within his right ear. On one account, he gave the impression that his right ear was possibly blocked. In addition, however, he was convinced that there was something moving in his ear.” When the doctors examined his ear with an otoscope, they saw “a small black foreign body adherent to the central aspect of the tympanic membrane.” Repeated flushing dislodged the foreign body, which “grossly resembled an engorged tiny insect [and] proved to be a Cimex lectularius in its nymphal stage.” Yes: The guy had a bed bug nymph feeding off his ear drum (that's it above!). Aside from some irritation of his ear canal, the patient was OK; doctors noted that after the bed bug was removed, “the patient's symptoms were immediately resolved and no further ear complaints followed.”

2. A Cockroach

One night in January 2014, Darwin, Australia resident Hendrik Helmer was awakened at 2:30am by a sharp, overwhelming pain in his right ear. He suspected an insect had crawled in there while he was sleeping. After attempting to remove it himself—first by flushing his ear with water, and then using a vacuum cleaner—he went to the hospital. Doctors poured in olive oil, waited 10 minutes for the creature to die … and pulled a nearly 1-inch-long cockroach out of Helmer’s ear. "She said, 'you know how I said a little cockroach? That may have been an underestimate,'" Helmer said. “They said they had never pulled an insect this large out of someone's ear."

If you’re a fan of things that will most definitely give you nightmares, you can watch a video of a doctor removing a live cockroach from a patient’s ear on YouTube.

3. A Spider

The good news: You probably don’t swallow a ton of spiders in your sleep. The bad news: They might be crawling into your ears instead. In 2012, a Chinese woman went to the hospital complaining of an itchy ear, which she’d had for several days. When doctors examined her ear canal, they found a spider just hanging out in there. Concerned that the spider would dig in deeper if they went in with forceps, doctors chose to flush it out saline solution. Aside from being extremely traumatized, the patient was just fine.

4. A Tick

In December 2011, an Irish equine vet went to the doctor complaining of a scratching sound and irritation in his left ear, which he said he’d experienced for several weeks. "I think I have a tick in my ear," the 41-year-old vet told Christchurch Hospital head and neck surgeon Jeremy Hornibrook, who did, indeed, find a horse tick in the man’s ear. “Microscopy of the left ear showed a tick wedged in the anterior recess with its legs contacting the tympanic membrane,” aka the ear drum, “which had extensive bruising,” Hornibrook wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal. “It was tightly attached and could not be ‘drowned’ with framycetin drops, so the ear canal was anaesthetised by injection and the tick removed with a small hook.”

Hornibrook also noted that “Ears are prime real estate for this tick, although the groin and armpits are the most common sites for infestation in most hosts.”

5. A Moth

As Parker, Colorado resident Wade Schlote was trying to get to sleep one night in June 2011, he experienced something truly terrible: A miller moth crawled into the 12-year-old’s ear, and it hurt. A lot. "I had a moment of panicking,” he said. “I was in pain. It was hurting so much I was screaming and crying.”

His mother rushed him to the hospital, where doctors were skeptical but eventually came around when they saw the moth crawling around in Schlote’s ear. And unfortunately for Schlote, it didn't want to come out. "The doctors tried numbing my ear, thinking it would help with the pain and kill the moth. That didn't work,” Schlote said. “Then they tried drowning it. That didn't work. Then they tried irrigating it. That didn't work. Finally, the doctor pulled it out with tweezers and when they did it was still alive and started flying around. … I am so happy it’s over.” Doctors caught the moth and put it in a plastic container for Schlote to take home.

6. Screwworm Fly Larvae

When Rochelle Harris returned to Britain from vacation in Peru in 2013, she began to hear scratching noises in her ear. Then came the splitting headaches and the unexplained discharge. At first, doctors thought it was just an ear infection … but then they found larvae of the New World screwworm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax), which had chewed a tiny hole in her ear canal. Surgeons removed what they called a "writhing mass of maggots,” and thankfully, Harris didn’t suffer any serious injuries.

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The Surprising Reason Why Pen Caps Have Tiny Holes at the Top
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If you’re an avid pen chewer, or even just a diehard fan of writing by hand, you’re probably well acquainted with the small hole that tops off most ballpoint pen caps, particularly those classic Bic Cristal pens. The reason it’s there has nothing to do with pen function, it turns out. As Science Alert recently reported, it’s actually designed to counter human carelessness.

Though it’s arguably unwise—not to mention unhygienic—to chomp or suck on a plastic pen cap all day, plenty of people do it, especially kids. And inevitably, that means some people end up swallowing their pen caps. Companies like Bic know this well—so they make pen caps that won’t impede breathing if they’re accidentally swallowed.

This isn’t only a Bic requirement, though the company’s Cristal pens do have particularly obvious holes. The International Organization for Standardization, a federation that sets industrial standards for 161 countries, requires it. ISO 11540 specifies that if pens must have caps, they should be designed to reduce the risk of asphyxiation if they’re swallowed.

It applies to writing instruments “which in normal or foreseeable circumstances are likely to be used by children up to the age of 14 years.” Fancy fountain pens and other writing instruments that are clearly designed for adult use don’t need to have holes in them, nor do caps that are large enough that you can’t swallow them. Any pen that could conceivably make its way into the hands of a child needs to have an air hole in the cap that provides a minimum flow of 8 liters (about 2 gallons) of air per minute, according to the standard [PDF].

Pen cap inhalation is a real danger, albeit a rare one, especially for primary school kids. A 2012 study [PDF] reported that pen caps account for somewhere between 3 and 8 percent of “foreign body aspiration,” the official term for inhaling something you’re not supposed to. Another study found that of 1280 kids (ages 6 to 14) treated between 1997 and 2007 for foreign body inhalation in Beijing, 34 had inhaled pen caps.

But the standards help keep kids alive. In that Beijing study, none of the 34 kids died, and the caps were successfully removed by doctors. That wasn’t always the case. In the UK, nine children asphyxiated due to swallowing pen caps between 1970 and 1984. After the UK adopted the international standard for air holes in pen caps, the number of deaths dropped precipitously [PDF]. Unfortunately, it’s not foolproof; in 2007, a 13-year-old in the UK died after accidentally swallowing his pen cap.

Even if you can still breathe through that little air hole, getting a smooth plastic pen cap out of your throat is no easy task for doctors. The graspers they normally use to take foreign bodies out of airways don’t always work, as that 2012 case report found, and hospitals sometimes have to employ different tools to get the stubbornly slippery caps out (in that study, they used a catheter that could work through the hole in the cap, then inflated a small balloon at the end of the catheter to pull the cap out). The procedure doesn’t exactly sound pleasant. So maybe resist the urge to put your pen cap in your mouth.

[h/t Science Alert]

Carnivorous Hammerhead Flatworms Are Invading France

It’s no hammerhead shark, but the hammerhead flatworm has become a real menace in France. Or at least a menace to earthworms, as Earther reports.

Believed to be an invasive species from Asia, the hammerhead flatworm was only recently recorded in France, as is documented in a new study (titled "Giant worms chez moi!") published in the journal PeerJ. However, based on reports, photographs, and videos sent in by citizens across the country, scientists determined the pests have gone undetected for nearly 20 years. This came as a shock, especially because the worms can measure more than a foot in length.

In recent years, three species of the carnivorous worm have quietly taken over French gardens and have even been spotted in metropolitan areas. Some species immobolize their prey with tetrodotoxin, the same powerful neurotoxin that makes pufferfish so poisonous. The worms secrete digestive enzymes, allowing them to dissolve earthworms and slugs their size.

Jean-Lou Justine, co-author of the study, says their eating habits are a concern. "Earthworms are a major component of the soil biomass and a very important element in the ecology of soils," Justine tells Earther. "Any predator which can diminish the populations of earthworms is thus a threat to soil ecology."

Archie Murchie, an entomologist who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post that the worms will continue to spread in step with global trade. The worms were also seen in overseas French territories, including one worm with a blue-green hue that is probably a newly detected species, Murchie tells the newspaper.

[h/t Earther]

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