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Man experiences seizure, infection in brain after cotton swab gets stuck in ear

'They can only cause problems,' doctor says of swabs

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A 31-year-old man developed an infection that spread to his brain after cleaning his ears with cotton swabs.

The man from England developed the life-threatening bacterial infection that affected his hearing and caused neurological symptoms after the cotton swab got stuck inside his ear canal, Live Science reported.

He was rushed to an emergency room after suffering a seizure and collapsing.

The man’s infection began in his ear canal, continued into the bone at the base of his skull, then moved into the lining of his brain, and although it didn’t go any further, an ear, nose and throat doctor who treated the man said it clearly caused neurological symptoms.

The man told doctors he had begun experiencing pain, discharge from his ear, had headaches that were so severe he vomited and was beginning to have trouble remembering people’s names.

But that was after five years of ear pain, hearing loss and severe ear infections on the same side.

Dr. Alexander Charlton told Live Science he suspected the seizure was caused either by toxins from the infection or pressure on the brain from the infection.

A CT scan revealed two abscesses in the man’s skull, adjacent to his left ear canal, signaling, doctors said, that even though the infection likely began in his ear canal, it had obviously spread.

Doctors diagnosed the man with necrotizing otitis externa, an infection in the soft tissue in the part of the ear from the outside of the ear to the eardrum.

During minor surgery, doctors explored his ear canal, found the cotton swab tip and removed it. They said it was impacted and surrounded by wax and debris, leading them to believe it had been there for some time.

After two months of intravenous and oral antibiotics, the man no longer had hearing or thinking problems.

Charlton said it’s not uncommon for cotton swabs to be linked to ear infections and advised the man not to use them again.

“They can only cause problems,” he said.

About the Author:

Dawn is a Digital Content Editor who has been with Graham Media Group since April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.