Do Bugs Crawl in People's Ears?

It does happen, but it's not usually cause for concern

Cockroach
The cockroach crawls in people's ears more than any other insect. arlindo71 / Getty Images

Ever have a persistent itch in your ear and wonder if something is in there? Is it possible there's a bug in your ear? This is a topic of considerable concern for some people (just slightly less concerning than whether we swallow spiders in our sleep). 

Yes, bugs do crawl in people's ears. But before you launch into a full-scale panic attack, you should know that it doesn't occur very often. And although a bug crawling around inside your ear canal can be very uncomfortable, it isn't usually life-threatening.

Cockroaches Crawl into People's Ears Most Often

If you have cockroaches in your home, you might want to sleep with earplugs in, just to be on the safe side. Cockroaches crawl into people's ears more often than any other bug. They aren't crawling in ears with ill intent, though; they're simply looking for a cozy place to retreat.

Cockroaches exhibit positive thigmotaxis, meaning they like to squeeze into small spaces. Since they also prefer to explore in the dark of night, they can and do find their way into the ears of sleeping humans from time to time.

Flies and Maggots in People's Ears

Coming in a close second to cockroaches were flies. Almost everyone has swatted away an annoying, buzzing fly at some point in their lives, and thought nothing of it.

While gross and annoying, most flies aren't going to cause any harm if they get in your ear. However, there are some that can cause health problems, most notably the screwworm maggot. These parasitic larvae feed on the flesh of their animal (or human) hosts.

Oddly, one bug that tends not to crawl into people's ears is the earwig, which was so nicknamed because people thought it did.

What to Do If You Think There's a Bug in Your Ear

Any arthropod in your ear is a potential medical concern because it can scratch or puncture your eardrum or in extreme cases, may cause an infection. Even if you succeed in removing the critter, it's wise to follow-up with a visit to the doctor to be sure your ear canal is free from any bug bits or damage that might cause problems later.

  • Do not put a finger in the ear, since this may make the insect sting.
  • Turn your head so that the affected side is up, and wait to see if the insect flies or crawls out.
  • If this doesn't work, try pouring mineral oil, olive oil, or baby oil into the ear. As you pour the oil, pull the ear lobe gently backward and upward for an adult, or backward and downward for a child. The insect should suffocate and may float out in the oil. AVOID using oil to remove any object other than an insect, since oil can cause other kinds of objects to swell.
  • Even if an insect appears to come out, get medical attention. Small insect parts can irritate the sensitive skin of the ear canal.