What are best methods for non-medically-trained personnel to remove a small cockroach from their own or someone else’s ear?

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    To the downvoter: Care to explain the reason for downvoting?
    – anderas
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


A few drops of baby oil (light nontoxic mineral oil) to suffocate the cockroach, then blunt tweezers or alligator forceps to carefully remove it once dead and motionless, if it is visible and easily grasped without rupturing the body of the roach or damaging the ear (don’t dig around blindly in the ear with any object). To prevent injury one should strongly consider saving removal until medical attention is available.

(Posting my own answer here just because it was such welcome knowledge when demonstrated to my friend who needed it, please comment or answer as well)

This was learned in response to an incident in southern Philippines in which a small (20mm x 5mm) cockroach flew seemingly accidentally into the side of my friend’s face then crawled rapidly into his ear. Water, rum, cigarette smoke, corn oil and attempts to remove the unharmed roach with a tweezers were unsuccessful and counterproductive, my friend (who grows corn and cassava) is a pretty tough guy but was getting increasingly unhappy (“it’s so loud!”). We drove him to a clinic, woke up the doctor, half awake he drowned the roach with a few large drops of mineral oil seemingly instantaneously, then fished out the now motinless slippery slightly bloody creature in less time than it takes to type this, charged us about $4, and went back to sleep. My friend literally bounded off of the exam table and around the room with relief and joy, and I carried a tiny bottle of mineral oil with me for the next year until I moved.

PS here’s a link https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/6/6/17429138/cockroaches-crawling-inside-ears-infections confirming that it’s better to do this than fight with a live roach (they’re pretty well evolved to fight in tunnels) but further that its important to clean ear canal thoroughly afterwards as the dying roach may vomit/excrete bacteria and fungi.

Addendum in Response to Comment: A commenter (@James Jenkins) wondered how baby oil (light non-toxic mineral oil could suffocate the roach, where corn oil could not. I had the same question and I followed it up with another doctor in the same region. Apparently a very low-viscosity mineral oil (baby oil as opposed to corn oil or water) somehow wicks in to the tiny passages that constitute a roach respiratory system (more on amazing roach HVAC system here http://www.notesonzoology.com/cockroaches/process-of-respiration-in-cockroaches-invertebrates/1989). So I’m unclear on the precise reason for why baby oil works but I was very sure to find out what was the standard practice (ordinary baby oil).

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    Can you expand on how 'baby oil (light nontoxic mineral oil)' is effective but "corn oil" is not effective. In the given scenario I suspect the baby oil had an additive. I can't imagine how one suffocates the roach while the other does not. Per this link "some roaches can go up to 40 minutes without breathing" further suggesting suffocation was not the cause of roaches lack of motion. Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 13:11
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    Will do. So I had the same question and I followed it up with another doctor in the same region. Apparently a very low-viscosity mineral oil (baby oil as opposed to corn oil or water) somehow wicks in to the tiny passages that constitute a roach respiratory system. But I was very sure to find out what it was (ordinary baby oil) just posted a link confirming the clinical practice I’ll look for something about the mechanism of action.
    – mmcc
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:05
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    All good just want to get this info out there
    – mmcc
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:10
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    Cockroaches hate this one weird trick
    – mmcc
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 17:23
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    Related How does mineral oil kill a cockroach? Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 12:04

I would follow the advice of the Mayo Clinic.

Remove the object if possible. If the object is clearly visible, pliable and can be grasped easily with tweezers, gently remove it.

This is somewhat contentious advice since the general guidance for ears is to insert nothing smaller than your elbow. It is very easy to perforate the ear drum with tweezers and this would be much more dangerous in the field than leaving the bug to be.

Try using oil for an insect. If the foreign object is an insect, tilt the person's head so that the ear with the insect is upward. Try to float the insect out by pouring mineral oil, olive oil or baby oil into the ear. The oil should be warm, but not hot. Don't use oil to remove an object other than an insect. Don't use this method for a child if ear tubes are in place or if you think the eardrum may be perforated. Signs and symptoms of a perforated eardrum are pain, bleeding or discharge from the ear.

Again you need to be careful and make sure the ear drum is not perforated. The goal is not to suffocate the insect, but rather to float it out. Of course, if the insect stubbornly refuses to float, it will eventually drown/suffocate.

  • After a quick search, I was surprised to find that "nothing smaller than your elbow" is indeed oft-repeated guidance for ears. Why don't they just say "nothing"? My elbow does not fit in my ear. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:19
  • @NuclearWang I have no idea where the saying came from. I will ask some of the clinicians and see if I can find something. The idea is that cleaning/itching the outer ear is fine, but you Elbow sized objects can itch/clean parts of your outer ear (e.g., pinna, concha and maybe external meatus), but will not fit into the canal which means you will not likely perforate your ear drum.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:25
  • @Nuclear Wang "nothing smaller than your elbow" is an example of hyperbole. " Hyperbole, derived from a Greek word meaning “over-casting,” is a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis." From Literary Devices. You might ignore "nothing" but "nothing smaller than your elbow" got your attention and will stick in your mind.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 23:46

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