Ear & Balance
Ear discomfort and coughing after a haircut? You may be surprised by the reason!
February 1, 2020
Recently, I saw a patient, Mr A who complained of a right ear discomfort after a haircut. Interestingly, the discomfort would worsen whenever he moves his jaw, especially during talking or eating. It also caused an itchy feeling in his throat, resulting in a cough.
On examination, there was a strand of hair in his right ear canal along with some earwax. These were removed with a forceps under microscope guidance (Figure 1 and 2). Following this, his symptoms resolved immediately.
Figure 1 – A strand of cut hair in the ear canal with one end touching the eardrum and some earwax
Figure 2 – Strand of hair and earwax removed with a pair of fine ear forceps
It is not uncommon for ENT Specialists to find cut hair/s in the ear canals. However, most of the time, the length is too short to cause any symptoms. As the ear canal is self-cleansing, I usually advise asymptomatic patients to leave the cut hair alone. The lining of the canal is like a conveyor belt, moving debris, dead skin and earwax away from the eardrum (Figure 3). This cleansing process is facilitated by the jaw which lies just below the floor of the ear canal. Jaw movements during eating or talking help to facilitate the self-cleansing process.
Figure 3 – The eardrum and lining of the ear canal is like a conveyor belt, moving dead skin, earwax, and debris away from the eardrum
In this case, Mr A was unfortunate that his cut hair was long enough to have one end poking against his eardrum and the other end poking his ear canal skin. Hence, any movement of his jaws during eating or talking would actually irritate both the ear canal skin and his eardrum. As the nerves supplying the skin of the ear canal and the throat are from the same origin, irritation of the ear canal and eardrum can cause symptoms in the throat too. These symptoms are called “referred” symptoms. Hence, sometimes an ENT Specialist will have to check your throat too if you have an ear symptom and vice versa.
Luckily for Mr A, his problem was easily solved and perhaps he should consider wearing earplugs the next time he visits his barber!
Dr Gan Eng Cern
ENT Specialist Singapore