A woman from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland has had half her face paralysed after a centimetre-long tick lodged in her ear canal was missed by several doctors.
When Olivia Pozzan woke up with a throbbing ear ache earlier this month, she put it down to a recent bout of sinus infection and took some anti-inflammatory medication to settle it down.
“Although the side of my face and my ear was feeling a bit swollen and painful, the anti-inflammatories did seem to settle the pain,” she said.
What she didn’t realise, however, was that there was a paralysis tick in her right ear canal.
“That would have been when the tick had actually attached inside my ear canal and started feeding.”
The earache appeared to settle down, and Ms Pozzan continued to go to work as a vet at the RSPCA’s Dakabin shelter.
“It wasn’t until about a week later when I woke up with violent vomiting and vertigo and facial paralysis that I knew something more serious was happening,” she said.
“It was all on the right side of my face.”
Ms Pozzan said she couldn’t close her right eye.
“I also had a lot of sensitivity to light and sound, and my mouth as well had flaccid paralysis so that I couldn’t move that whole right side of my face,” she said.
Ms Pozann went to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital where she said doctors came up with some frightening different diagnoses, including Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, “which is a shingles virus infection of the facial nerve and that only has a 65 per cent recovery rate”.
Six doctors examined Ms Pozann’s right ear canal, but found nothing due to a build-up of wax.
“I had a lot of problems when I was a child with that ear, and had a number of operations,” she said.
“I did have a fair bit of a wax build up in there.”
Twelve days on from her first earache symptoms, the culprit was found.
“It wasn’t until doctor number seven cleared the wax and found the tick hiding behind it.” she said.
By this time, the tick had grown to over one centimetre long.
“It had that time to just keep on engorging,” she said.
“A fully engorged tick is about 200-600 times the size of an unfed tick,” Ms Pozann said.
The doctor injected the tick with a solution to kill it, then removed it.
“As a vet it was pretty fascinating,” she said.
While only female ticks feed on animals and people, the tick’s been named Steve after the doctor who removed it.
‘I had 120 ticks down my pants’
Professor Peter Banks, who studies Conservation Biology at the University of Sydney, said having a tick long enough in an ear to cause paralysis was rare.
“I haven’t heard of that one before but I do know of some students who have had them in the corner of their eye and in their ears,” he said.
“Definitely [it happens] as more and more people wander around bushland environments, but also it’s more wildlife visits in people’s backyards – the tick encounter rate is on the increase, I would say.
“There’s not a lot of data on that but certainly more and more people are encountering ticks on the [Australian] east coast.”
He said he’d personally had the misfortune of getting hundreds of baby ticks down his pants during the course of his research.
“In one instance I had 120 ticks down my pants. I was trapping some wildlife and I must have sat down in the wrong spot where some newly hatched larvae were there,” he said.
“They went into my pants and that was quite interesting trying to get 120 off.”
Ms Pozann is now recovering at home after missing three weeks of work.
Her facial paralysis has settled in the last couple of days, but she said she still has a lot of dizziness and balance issues.
She is concerned about the possibility of contracting Lyme disease and Tick Typhus, given the tick was in her ear canal for so long.
Ms Pozann believes she most likely got the tick from an animal that she had examined during her work at the RSPCA shelter.
She said cat and dog owners need to make sure their animals were protected from ticks.