There’s a Bug in My Ear! What Should I Do?

It’s a disturbing thought but it is possible for bugs to fly or crawl into our ears and then get stuck there. Often the insect dies after it enters the ear but it could stay alive and try to make its way back out.

It’s helpful to remember that a bug in your ear is usually not dangerous to your health, though it can be quite uncomfortable. You are more likely to experience a bug in your ear when spending time outdoors or if there are bugs living in your home. This may occur while you are sleeping.

This article will provide step-by-step instructions for removing a bug from your ear. It will also explain when to call your healthcare provider and what the possible complications are. 

Close-Up Of Insect In Tweezers Over Human Ear - stock photo

Panyawat Boontanom / EyeEm / Getty Images

Signs and Symptoms

If you have a bug in your ear, you will likely begin to experience symptoms right away. The tissues and nerves in the ear are very sensitive, so it can feel bothersome when there is something in your ear. 

Possible signs and symptoms of a bug in your ear include:

  • Redness
  • Itching 
  • Swelling
  • Discharge 
  • Pain 

Removal

When attempting to remove an insect from your ear, it is helpful to stay as still and as calm as you can. It is occasionally possible to remove the insect at home without complications. 

First, remember to never use a cotton swab or any tool that you press into your ear. This will only push the insect further into the ear canal and could cause more damage. 

To remove a bug from your ear, try these steps:

  1. Tilt your head to the side and gently shake it. Do not hit your head to try to remove the bug. 
  2. If the bug does not come out, try pouring a small amount of vegetable oil into the affected ear. This will help to suffocate the bug. Then try to gently shake your head again. Note: Do not do this if you have a history of tympanic membrane perforation (hole in your eardrum) or history of ear surgery or any chronic ear symptoms.
  3. If the first two steps are not successful, pour a small amount of warm water into your ear canal to flush the bug out. Then tilt your head to the side and shake gently. 
  4. If these steps do not work, consult your healthcare provider. 

When to Get Medical Help

Call your healthcare provider if you have not been able to remove the insect from your ear completely with home remedies. Sometimes it is possible to remove part of the insect but not the entire thing. Your provider will help you to determine if you need to be seen in the clinic. 

It’s also important to call your healthcare provider if you begin experiencing new symptoms such as ear pain, bloody drainage, a foul smell coming from the ear, or a fever. 

Complications

In most cases, a bug entering your ear is harmless. However, if a bug enters your ear and is not removed, an infection could occur. Symptoms of an ear infection include ear pain and drainage. 

A bug in your ear could also lead to a ruptured eardrum, a part of the ear also known as your tympanic membrane. This could occur if the bug bites or scratches the eardrum. This is extremely rare, but symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include pain and bloody discharge coming from the ear. You may notice that you are having trouble hearing out of that ear as well. 

Prevention

There is no way to guarantee that a bug will never fly into your ear. The best prevention strategy is to avoid insects whenever you can. Try sleeping with your windows closed to prevent bugs from flying into the bedroom. Keep your room clean to discourage insects from entering. 

When camping or spending time outdoors, wear bug repellant and consider wearing a hat that covers your ears. When sleeping outdoors, seal your tent shut to prevent insects from coming in. 

Summary 

A bug in your ear can be very uncomfortable but usually does not lead to any serious complications. Possible symptoms include redness, itching, swelling, drainage, and pain. You may also notice a sensation of movement inside the ear. To remove a bug from your ear, try tilting your head to the side and shaking it gently. Pouring a small amount of vegetable oil or warm water into your ear may also help. If you are unable to remove it at home, call your healthcare provider. 

A Word From Verywell 

Your skin may be crawling just thinking about the possibility of a bug inside your ear. As uncomfortable as it is, a bug in your ear is usually harmless. Do your best to stay calm as you attempt to remove it. If you are not sure if you’ve removed the entire insect, don’t hesitate to see your healthcare provider. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can a bug live in your ear?

    When a bug enters your ear, it usually dies quickly. However, sometimes bugs can stay alive inside the ear and try to climb or burrow out. If the bug is still alive, you will likely feel a sensation of movement inside the ear.

  • What are ear maggots?

    A maggot is the larva of a fly. They look like small worms. Ear maggots are very rare but can occur when a fly enters the ear and lays maggots in the ear canal. If a fly has flown into your ear and you feel movement, see your healthcare provider. 

  • How common is it for a bug to crawl into your ear?

    It is relatively common for a bug to fly or crawl into your ear, especially when spending time outdoors. To lower your risk of an insect entering your ear, wear insect repellent outdoors and consider wearing a hat that covers your ears.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Calleja T. 'A bugging feeling': a live foreign body in the ear. Arch Dis Child. 2020 Jul;105(7):689. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2019-316881

  2. Texas Children’s Hospital. Insects in the ear.

  3. Lin HY, Hu HC. Aural myiasis caused by a flesh fly in the ear canal: Do not drain the oil too soon. Ear Nose Throat J. 2019 Feb;98(2):64-65. doi:10.1177/0145561318824888

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.