A 9-year-old Connecticut boy who first reported hearing a buzzing sound was found to have a dog tick attached to his ear drum.
The case of the unnamed boy was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 2, along with a picture of the tick inside his ear.
The tick’s mouth—or more accurately the ‘capitulum’ that probes, grips, and sucks blood—was embedded in his eardrum.
When he was brought to Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, the boy said he could feel something moving in his right ear.
“He had no pain, tinnitus, or loss of hearing,” wrote his doctor in the report. “On physical examination, a tick was seen on the right tympanic membrane, with surrounding inflammation.”
They tried to remove the tick with the help of a microscope, but it was embedded too firmly, and the doctors feared tearing his eardrum if they tried to crudely pull it out.
But the tick couldn’t be left it, as it would could further inflammation and damage.
“We took him to the operating room, put him to sleep, and we were able to use pretty fine utensils to remove the capitulum of the tick,” Dr. David Kasle, who performed the delicate operation, told CNN.
“The tick’s capitulum was buried beneath the epidermal layer of the tympanic membrane. The underlying fibrous layer of the membrane remained intact. The tick was removed with a day hook, with guidance from an operative microscope.”
Dr. Lorenza Beati, curator of the U.S. National Tick Collection and a biology professor at Georgia Southern University, told CNN that the case was very unusual.
Beati, who was not involved in the case study, wrote in an email. “Some ticks in Africa do this, but in the U.S. this is a very very unusual event, particularly because an adult [dog tick] is pretty big and people often discover the tick crawling on them before it attaches.”
The tick was taken for testing, and later revealed as Dermacentor variabilis: a dog tick, commonly found in parts of the United States.
The dog tick is found widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the CDC, as well as in limited areas on the Pacific Coast. It can transmit tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
One month later, and the boy’s eardrum had healed well, and there was no tell-tale fever or rash to suggest he had contracted either disease.
There are over 900 species of ticks, which suck the blood of their hosts. The main risk is not the loss of blood but the transmission of diseases. Lyme’s disease is the most common tick-borne disease.
Ticks look for warm places to attach themselves, according to Neeta Pardanani Connally, director of the Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory at Western Connecticut State University.
“It is more common for ticks to be found attached behind knees, in groin areas, in armpits, behind ears, ” she told CNN. “Dog ticks like the one in this article are commonly found attached to human heads.”
Ticks find their hosts by detecting breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations.
“Some species can even recognize a shadow,” according to the CDC website. “In addition, ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths.”
“Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as ‘questing’.”
“While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard.”