A 48-year-old woman in Taiwan had a bad earache, but even worse was the source of the pain: a live fruit-fly larva nestled beneath her hearing aid.
Doctors writing in Wednesday’s New England Journal of Medicine said they found the creature crawling deep within her left ear canal.
“The skin over the floor of the auditory canal, close to the eardrum, was eroded,” wrote Dr. Cheng-Ping Shih of the Tri-Service General Hospital in Taipei.
It could have been there for a day or longer, Cheng-Ping told NBC News in an email. Because the woman used her hearing aid frequently, the skin inside her ear was less sensitive than usual.
“The larvae was still alive in the ear while the patient visited our emergent department,” Cheng-Ping said.
The bug likely came from the patient’s home, where fruit flies often gather around produce kept in the open rather than refrigerated, Cheng-Ping said. The patient’s ear was relatively warmer than the environment, perhaps providing a cozy nest.
Doctors removed the larva easily and treated the woman with an antibiotic ointment — but not before recording a video of the unwanted guest.
The woman’s ear was completely healed within two weeks, but doctors were surprised enough by the case to submit it to the journal.
“Most cases of animals in the ear canal are the flying objects and cockroaches,” Cheng-Ping wrote. “The fruit fly larva in ear canal is relatively unusual.”
To view the disturbing video of the fruit fly larva, see the NEJM study, "An Unusual Auricular Foreign Body."
Massachusetts Medical Society
First published February 12 2014, 2:00 PM
JoNel Aleccia has been a senior health reporter and editor for NBC News since 2008. In that role, Aleccia is responsible for breaking news, enterprise and investigative stories about consumer health and health policy issues for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com. Send her an email here.
Aleccia joined msnbc.com and, later, NBC News, after more than 25 years as a reporter, editor and columnist covering health, education, social issues and regional government at newspapers throughout the Northwest.
Aleccia is the co-recipient of two Joan M. Friedenberg Online Journalism Awards, in 2009 and 2011, from
the National Press Club. She also has received multiple regional and local journalism awards.
Aleccia lives in Redmond, Wash. She is married and the mother of two grown children.