Ear & Balance

Ear discomfort and coughing after a haircut? You may be surprised by the reason!

February 1, 2020
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Recently, I saw a patient, Mr A who complained of a right ear discomfort after a haircut. Interestingly, the discomfort would worsen whenever he moves his jaw, especially during talking or eating. It also caused an itchy feeling in his throat, resulting in a cough.

On examination, there was a strand of hair in his right ear canal along with some earwax. These were removed with a forceps under microscope guidance (Figure 1 and 2). Following this, his symptoms resolved immediately.



A strand of hair

Figure 1 – A strand of cut hair in the ear canal with one end touching the eardrum and some earwax



Strand of hair and earwax removed

Figure 2 – Strand of hair and earwax removed with a pair of fine ear forceps



It is not uncommon for ENT Specialists to find cut hair/s in the ear canals. However, most of the time, the length is too short to cause any symptoms. As the ear canal is self-cleansing, I usually advise asymptomatic patients to leave the cut hair alone. The lining of the canal is like a conveyor belt, moving debris, dead skin and earwax away from the eardrum (Figure 3). This cleansing process is facilitated by the jaw which lies just below the floor of the ear canal. Jaw movements during eating or talking help to facilitate the self-cleansing process.



Figure 3 – The eardrum and lining of the ear canal is like a conveyor belt, moving dead skin, earwax, and debris away from the eardrum


In this case, Mr A was unfortunate that his cut hair was long enough to have one end poking against his eardrum and the other end poking his ear canal skin. Hence, any movement of his jaws during eating or talking would actually irritate both the ear canal skin and his eardrum. As the nerves supplying the skin of the ear canal and the throat are from the same origin, irritation of the ear canal and eardrum can cause symptoms in the throat too. These symptoms are called “referred” symptoms. Hence, sometimes an ENT Specialist will have to check your throat too if you have an ear symptom and vice versa.


Luckily for Mr A, his problem was easily solved and perhaps he should consider wearing earplugs the next time he visits his barber!



Best wishes,


Dr Gan Eng Cern

ENT Specialist Singapore

    When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

    • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
    • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

    Dr Gan Eng Cern

    Dr Gan Eng Cern is a distinguished ENT doctor with fellowship training. In addition to his clinical practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Singapore, Dr. Gan has contributed to the academic field as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. He is recognised for his extensive research work, with numerous contributions to reputable international ENT journals. Dr Gan is also highly sought after as a speaker and has shared his surgical knowledge as a surgical dissection teacher at various prominent ENT conferences and courses.


    • 2020 – Reader’s Choice Gold Award for Best ENT Specialist (Expat Living Singapore)
    • 2016 – Best Educator Award (Eastern Health Alliance)
    • 2016 – “Wow” Award (Patient Compliment)
    • 2014 – Eastern Health Alliance Caring Award – Silver
    • 2014 – 19th Yahya Cohen Memorial Lectureship (awarded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine Singapore for best scientific surgical paper)
    • 2012 – Human Manpower Development Award (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
    • 2007 – Singhealth Best Doctor Award


    • MBBS – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
    • MRCS (Edin) – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    • MMed (ORL) – Master of Medicine in ENT (National University of Singapore)
    • FAMS – Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore

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