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.

A Manmade Fatberg Is Floating Off the Coast of Amsterdam
A chunk of the Whitechapel fatberg on display at the Museum of London.
A chunk of the Whitechapel fatberg on display at the Museum of London.

Fatbergs—typically masses made from congealed grease, diapers, wet wipes, and other trash—have a tendency to form where they’re not wanted, but a new one floating in the sea just off Amsterdam was put there deliberately. As Gizmodo reports, designers Mike Thompson and Arne Hendriks constructed the buoyant blob to be a statement-making piece of experimental art.

Their Fatberg (capital F) started in 2014 as a single drop of fat in a glass of water. In the time since then, Thompson and Hendriks have grown it into a 2205-pound behemoth by gradually adding melted-down vegetable and animal fats to the mound. Unlike fatbergs that appear in the wild (a.k.a. city sewers), this monstrosity is pure fat. The two masterminds hope to eventually incorporate human fat obtained from a liposuction procedure.

The project is less a statement about the litter and pollution that leads to fatbergs clogging up our sewers as it is about the meaning of the fat itself. “Basically we’re doing this because fat is a very interesting material—it’s probably the most iconic material of time,” Hendriks told Gizmodo. “It’s organic, but it speaks about energy. It speaks about health. It speaks about over-consumption. It speaks about beauty.”

The two men plan to continue growing their fat island with the goal of getting it big enough to stand on and towing it to the North Pole. But they have a long way to go before they break the record for biggest fatberg—that title belongs to the Whitechapel fatberg, which weighed a whopping 143 tons when it was pulled from a London sewer in 2017.

Floating fatberg.
Mike Thompson, Arne Hendriks

Adding fat to a floating fatberg.
Mike Thompson, Arne Hendriks

[h/t Gizmodo]

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images
How a London Museum Is Preserving a Chunk of the 143-Ton Whitechapel Fatberg
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images

When UK officials learned of the 143-ton Whitechapel fatberg mucking up London’s sewer system, their first concern was getting rid of it. Now, the curators at the Museum of London are figuring out how to best preserve a chunk of the monstrous trash mass so as many visitors as possible can see it.

As WIRED UK reports, the museum's exhibition, titled "Fatberg!", launches on Friday, February 9. It features a congealed mound of fat, hair, diapers, wet wipes, sanitary napkins, and condoms that was salvaged from the Whitechapel fatberg shortly after it was discovered beneath the streets of London in September 2017. According to the exhibition’s curator, Vyki Sparkes, no one has ever tried preserving a fatberg before.

The garbage globs, which form from grease and oil poured down sink drains, attract debris ranging in size from candy wrappers to planks of wood. Just a small piece of one can provide a fascinating glimpse at the waste that ends up in city sewers, but displaying a fatberg for the public to view poses logistical challenges.

In this case, the fatberg piece was set out to dry for seven weeks before it was transported to the Museum of London. The resulting item has the consistency of "parmesan crossed with moon rock," according to CBC News, and is roughly the size of a shoebox. Outside of the moist environment of London’s underbelly, the solid chunk may continue to dry out and crumble into pieces. Mold growth and sewer fly infestations are also potential issues as long as it's left out in the open.

The museum curators initially considered pickling the fatberg in formaldehyde to solve the aging problem. This idea was ultimately nixed as the liquid would have likely dissolved the whole lump into loose sludge. Freezing was another possibility, but the museum was unable to get a hold of the specialist freezers necessary for that to happen in time.

In the end, the curators decided to display it as-is within three layers of boxes. The clear cases are meant to spare guests from the noxious odor that Sparkes described to CBC News as a weeks-old diaper smell that’s simmered into something more like a “damp Victorian basement.” The exhibition closes July 1, at which point the museum must decide if the fatberg, if it remains intact, should become a permanent part of their collection. And if the mass doesn’t end up surviving the five-month show, obtaining another one to sample shouldn’t be too difficult.

[h/t WIRED UK]


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