Hearing sounds that come from no discernible place is an element that features in numerous scary stories. One of the most famous is H.P. Lovecraft’s 1924 short story, “The Rats in the Walls.”
In it, the main character hears the “the verminous slithering of ravenous, gigantic rats” while living in a dilapidated old house. That’s a sound spooky enough to keep you up at night, and a 9-year-old Connecticut boy heard something every bit as creepy coming from a closer place: his right ear.
According to CNN and a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the young man also felt a strange sensation (but surprisingly, no pain) in his ear. That was enough to get him an appointment at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.
He explained to Dr. Erik Waldman, chief of pediatric otolaryngology, that he hadn’t done anything outside of the ordinary. He’d only played outside.
But when Waldman looked inside the boy’s ear, he determined the issue. There, staring back at him, was a tick — specifically, a dog tick, also known as Dermacentor variabilis.
Dr. David Kasle, an otolaryngology resident who helped treat the boy, told Live Science, “Essentially, the closer any sound gets to the eardrum, the louder it’s going to be [heard] by the patient. As this bug got closer and closer, [the boy] probably heard it louder and louder.”
Waldman tried to remove the tick but had no luck. The arachnid’s mouthparts were sunk into the red, irritated tissue of the boy’s eardrum.
The doctors faced a difficult dilemma. If they went ahead with the removal, the young man’s eardrum could tear.
“The eardrum essentially acts as a part of a pretty complex lever mechanism to allow sound to travel from the outer ear into the inner ear and through the middle ear, where there are ossicles — small bones,” Kasle stated. “You need that drum intact to get good sound.”
However, leaving the tick there was scarcely a better option. That could also hurt the patient’s hearing in the long run.
Though we don’t normally hear about ticks burrowing into ear canals, the nasty, disease-bearing critters like to crawl into warm, confined areas. Really, any area will do for the tiny arachnids.
The Director of the Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory at Western Connecticut State University, Neeta Pardanani Connally, explained, “It’s not the first time ticks have been found in unusual places.”
She cited a study conducted by the American Academy of Opthamology that found a tick in (wait for it) a man’s eye.
A 28-year-old who was an active duty naval petty officer had gone to his doctor after a hike in Shenandoah National Park, saying that he felt like there was something in his eye. The physician initially believed it was a bit of metal.
Further inspection revealed it was an itty-bitty tick. Doctors eventually successfully removed it.
The same eventually happened for the 9-year-old.
“We took him to the operating room, put him to sleep, and we were able to use pretty fine utensils to remove the [head] of the tick,” said Kasle. Afterward, they prescribed antibiotic ear drops for the boy.
All’s well that ends well, especially in this case. Not only did the boy’s ear mend, he didn’t develop any signs associated with tick-borne illness.
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