Befriending the Dust Mites Living in Your Ear

A 70-year-old gentleman had, for two months, itching and a "sense of fullness" in his right ear.

disfiguring angio 615.jpgThe New England Journal of Medicine ©2012

So reported The New England Journal of Medicine. A doctor looked into the man's ear with an otoscope and saw this:

disfiguring angio 615.jpgThe New England Journal of Medicine ©2012

The little guys at the arrowheads are mites. Common dust mites -- the same that are all over our houses, subsisting on the flakes of our skin that float about -- but aren't usually nesting in our auditory canal. When they do, it's called otoacariasis. 

It's a diagnosis that's common in dogs, yes, but it doesn't mean you're gross if you get it. The opposite, actually. They'll write about you in a major medical journal, and you'll be famous at last, and you can travel the world. Under the microscope they look like this: 

disfiguring angio 615.jpgThe New England Journal of Medicine ©2012

FAQ: The mites cannot get into your brain through your ear. They cannot survive fire, but you should not try to "smoke them out." They do lay eggs, and they look like this:

disfiguring angio 615.jpgThe New England Journal of Medicine ©2012

If you think of the little mites caring for these eggs, petting them inside the man's ear and whatnot, it's redeeming. This egg was some mite's lil' bean!

They gave the man antibiotic ear drops, though, and all the mites died. One of them had wanted to be an actor. He is survived by one hundred trillion dust mites in every house. End of story. Does your ear itch?

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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