Warning: This is not one for the squeamish.
When a 9-year-old boy from Connecticut was admitted to Yale New Haven Children's Hospital with an odd sensation in his right ear, the source of his discomfort turned out to be a particularly gruesome (not to mention uninvited) guest.
A wily tick had lodged itself in the patient’s ear as he was playing outside at school. According to a case study in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Wednesday, the boy had heard a buzzing sound in his ear three days prior. Fortunately, the bug that had taken up residence in his eardrum had not caused any pain, tinnitus, or hearing loss.
When doctors took a look, they found the tick nestled on the tympanic membrane and was surrounded by inflamed tissue. After attempting and failing to take out the tick then and there with the guidance of an operative microscope, medics had the patient transferred to an operating room and placed under general anesthetic.
They found the tick’s capitulum (that is, its feeding structure) had bored into the skin, which meant removing the arachnid could cause pain and tear if not done carefully. As study co-author David Kasle told CNN, damage to the eardrum would not necessarily deafen the patient, but it could “dampen” his hearing.
Yet, allowing the tick to stay in its place would also result in worse hearing over time. And so, using a day hook, general anesthetic, and an operative microscope, surgeons managed to extract the bug. It turned out to be a species of tick called Dermacentor variabilis, aka the American dog tick or wood tick, which is known to cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
The good news is that the patient had absolutely no signs or symptoms of any illness and ciprofloxacin eardrops cleared up any abrasion of the tympanic membrane post-treatment. One month on and he is doing well, doctors say.
Not had your fill of gross stories for the day? Ticks aren’t the only bugs to get caught up in human ear canals, cockroaches are at it too. And only last month, one poor woman was admitted to the hospital because she had not one, not two, but FOUR bees living in her left eye.