'Doctor, I've got a tick in my ear'

By Elizabeth Binning

This horse tick in a vet's ear had to be removed with a small hook as a last resort.
Photo / NZ Medical Association
This horse tick in a vet's ear had to be removed with a small hook as a last resort. Photo / NZ Medical Association

Have you heard the one about the Irishman who walked into the doctor's saying "I 'tink I have a tick in my ear'?"

Well, it's no joke. According to the latest Medical Journal that's exactly how a 41-year-old Irish veterinary surgeon presented after experiencing an annoying itch in his left ear.

Head and neck surgeon Jeremy Hornibrook said the equine vet had been experiencing an irritation and scratching sound for several weeks.

He had unsuccessfully tried to relieve it with a cotton bud but when the itch became too much he went to the doctor saying he thought the problem might be a tick.

Mr Hornibrook inserted a fibre-optic endoscope video into the man's outer ear canal and found the parasite, about 3 to 4mm long, with its eight legs wedged on the eardrum.

The tick, which had been feeding on blood from inside the ear, had caused extensive bruising.

It was also "tightly attached" and wouldn't budge, even after framycetin drops were used to try to dislodge it. Mr Hornibrook anaesthetised the vet's ear and dragged the tick out with a small hook.

"He was quite laidback about it, he was very relieved that the cause of the sensation went away. There was no permanent damage."

Mr Hornibrook said the tick was "a very unusual thing to find" and the only one he'd ever come across.

"The things that usually fly or get into ears are flies and moths. The patient often wakes in the middle of the night with this terrible flapping or buzzing in their ear and it's very easy to stop by drowning it. But this was a little bit different.

"When you looked in you could actually see the little claws clawing at the eardrum and it was a little bit harder to get rid of."

Dr Simon Pollard, curator of invertebrate zoology at Canterbury Museum, said while cows were the principal host for ticks they have been found on most introduced mammals in New Zealand.

And they like certain spots when burrowing for a feed.

"Ears are prime real estate, although the groin and armpits are the most common sites for infestation in most hosts."

- NZ Herald

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