A horrified camper has had a “meltdown” after waking up at 3am on Monday morning to discover a large cockroach burrowing into her ear.
A keen caravanner, Kirsty Barge is sharing her “disgusting” creepy-crawly story in the hope of teaching people what not to do if they encounter an ear-invading insect.
The risk of it happening increases as summer holiday makers camp overnight in the bush, according to a doctor.
Ms Barge, 35, was holidaying with her husband Chris in the West Australian shire of Collie, 35 minutes’ drive over rough roads to the nearest town, when she woke to the feeling of something entering her right ear.
“It felt like a moth or something had flown into my ear, so that’s when I’ve sat up and started shaking my head,” Ms Barge said.
But it would not come out.
First, the couple tried flooding her ear with water over their caravan’s sink, but that only forced the insect in further.
They resorted to a pair of tweezers and were lucky not to damage her ear drum.
“I’m trying to calm myself down because I was just having this full meltdown,” Ms Barge said.
“My husband, he pulled a little bit and said, ‘Ooh, that’s a leg’, and dropped it in the sink.
“I’m like, ‘No, don’t tell me anything else, I don’t know want to know’, and then he tried again and that’s when I could feel him dragging it out.
“It hurt, it was horrible, honestly it was horrendous. It was so disgusting.”
Ms Barge said the cockroach was more than three centimetres long.
“I counted its legs and antennae to make sure I didn’t have any surprises in my ear later and then started dry retching again and threw it down the sink,” she said.
Not an isolated incident
Dozens of people have detailed their own, often “excruciating” stories after Ms Barge posted on the Caravan and Camping Australia Facebook site.
Ms Barge said she hoped people would learn that tweezers were not the safest treatment option.
“I am actually glad there’s so many comments, because so many people are going ‘Oh God, I never would have known what to do’,” Ms Barge said.
Maroochydore-based ear, nose and throat specialist Adam Blond said insects entering ears were more common than people thought.
He said he treated at least one case every couple of weeks and the rate increased during warm holiday seasons when people camp with lights outside.
“Small cockroaches are really common, occasionally spiders, but more likely mozzies and moths get caught in there,” Dr Blond said.
“If you try to get them out or put water in behind them, a lot of them tend to dig the barbs on their feet and their legs into the side of your ear and push themselves further down into your ear drum, which is the most sensitive part.”
He recommended turning lights off and shining a torch to the outside of the affected ear to see if the insect was small enough to come out on its own.
“You’ll know if it’s out,” he said.
“If you do the torch trick, and it comes running out itself, you’ll actually feel the release and it’s completely gone.”
If that fails, Dr Blond explained the simplest and safest approach was to smother the insects by putting drops of room temperature baby oil or olive oil into the ear, before seeking medical help.
“Oil suffocates them and stops them from moving around and they’re essentially dead,” he said.
“It’s the movement that drives you crazy. It’s incredibly noisy and painful.”
The specialist said that most of the time it was not the insects, but misguided first aid responses, that caused serious complications.
“The problems that that you see are when people are trying to get them out — so, traumatising and rupturing the ear drum with the tweezers,” Dr Blond said.
Dr Blond said if insects remained stuck for a long time they could cause serious ear infections.
“I’ve seen maggots alive in there after a bug’s been in there for a while. That looks a bit scary, and you can hear the maggots moving so it’s just a constant noise in your ear. Again, if you put the oil in it stops.”