Doctors have reported an unusual case of a man who accidentally got molten metal inside his ear while welding, which they believe to be only one of five in the medical literature.
A 60-year-old man showed up at the emergency department complaining of severe burning pain in his right ear, the doctors write in BMJ Case Reports 2021. The cause of his burning pain was immediately apparent. Earlier that day he had been using an "OxyTorch" soldering iron on the underside of his semi-trailer. While lying on his side and wearing no ear protection, "molten hot steel" poured into his ear and down his external auditory canal.
As the slag burned its way into his ear, he heard a sound like a "fire cracker", before hearing loss set in. The man poured tap water into his ear in order to relieve the pain and burning sensation, before heading to the hospital.
Upon examination, they found him to have singed hairs in his ear canal, and his eardrum was perforated. He had experienced strange taste sensations and hearing loss, but other than that seemed healthy. He was referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and given painkillers in the meantime. But this wasn't the end of his problems, as the molten metal (now cooled) still remained in his head.
While he waited eight weeks to be seen due to a "significant waitlist", he developed two ear infections, tinnitus, and said that his ear felt "hollow" and that he struggled to hear in crowded environments. Upon investigation by the ear, nose, and throat doctor, he was found to have a foreign body inside his sinus tympani.
The team decided to remove the metal surgically. It was located near inflamed tissue, and removed successfully, though they note that there was damage to the chorda tympani nerve – a nerve that takes taste messages from the taste buds to the brain – by the molten metal.
Though the patient suffered from temporary hearing loss, he had otherwise escaped with pretty minimal damage, having dodged other potential damage to his balance or complications from infection.
"The case presented is of an exceedingly lucky man who suffered only mild conductive hearing loss from his injury," the team wrote in their report. "And had a positive outcome from surgical intervention with full recovery of his hearing and removal of the offending foreign body."
Following the surgery, he returned to work as a welder, on the provision that he prevented more molten steel going in there by using ear protection.
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