I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until Sunday to suspect what now seems to have been obvious: The missing section of earbud was lodged in my ear canal, thus the “earache.” Duh.
In my defense, I just couldn’t believe it was in my ear because I could hear just fine. And I wasn’t in that much pain, at least not all the time. I asked my “diary” (a.k.a. hundreds of Facebook friends) if such a thing was possible: Could I really have a piece of rubber lodged in my ear and not really notice it? Friends and relatives unanimously suggested that I seek medical attention. One friend said he’s nearly deaf in one ear, due to not dealing with an ear injury hastily enough.
...the attending nurse spotted the offending earbud tip stuck firmly in my left ear canal. Doing something about it was another matter entirely. Three times, she tried to dig it out with tweezers, causing no small amount of discomfort. Three times, she failed, before the emergency room sent me home with a note suggesting I see an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) as soon as possible.
...According to Dr. Sperling, who also uses Etymotic earbuds and recommends their in-ear hearing protectors, he sees plenty of cases just like mine. Indeed, three of my friends have had this happen to them too. It’s nowhere near as uncommon as I’d thought.
“Earbuds, hearing aids, and anything with a rubber tip” can become dislodged and stay in the ear, he said, requiring skilled medical intervention (i.e. preferably not by the general nurse practitioner in the ER). Sperling also said heat and moisture inside the ear can fatigue rubber faster than we might imagine, so we should replace the rubber tips on our in-ear earbuds more frequently than most of us probably do. That should help ensure that the tips don’t, you know, leave part of themselves in our ears.