Is It Dangerous to Use Cotton Swabs in the Ears?

Are Cotton Swabs Dangerous for Ears?

All of us reach out for cotton swabs to clean our ears as soon as we feel we have earwax built up in the ears. People also use cotton buds to remove water from the ear. But are you sure you’re using the right method for the ears, or might it possible the correct technique goes in the wrong direction?

When you use an earbud to remove the earwax, it acts like a plunger that, instead of removing the wax, pushes it deeper and deeper inside your ear canal. The other problem is that if you dig it more in-depth, there’s no chance of coming out. Instead, there’s a high chance that frequent use of earbuds might puncture your eardrums and may cause hearing loss. In extreme cases, it would damage many sensitive structures behind the ear canal and cause complete deafness, prolonged vertigo (loss of balance) with nausea and vomiting, loss of taste function, and even facial paralysis.

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is an acidic substance that your ears produce naturally. It is a waxy, yellowish substance that lines the inside of your ear canal. The ear canal is the tube that runs from your outer ear to your eardrum. It has many beneficial properties as it protects your ears from both internal and external damage. It helps fight bacteria and fungus in the ear. The wax protects from any injury and foreign subjects. Also, it’s slightly oily, which provides a waterproof barrier for the ear canal skin. It is a natural moisturizer, preventing the skin from inside from becoming too dry.

Every one tempts to clean the ears once in a while or their children for better hygiene. Avoid doing it as everything in our body serves a purpose, and so does earwax. Typically, people think of it as the dirt collected in their ears and remove it all by the earbuds. In doing so, they dig deeper and deeper to leave no inch behind. But that’s not how it works. Instead, it damages your ears. The wax keeps your ear health good by trapping all the dust and dirt, so they don’t travel any deeper in the ear canal. Your ear canal is a delicate lining that needs to be protected, not plunged in by brutal cleansing by the earbuds, no matter how careful you are. Earwax does not need to be cleaned as it is the cleaner of your ear canal.

Your body already has a way to deal with the extra wax. People usually don’t need to use earbuds as ears have a natural cleansing system that sweeps excess wax out through the ear canal. Chewing, other jaw movements, and skin growing inside your ear will push old wax out naturally. Even if there is a lot of wax, and it gets up to 90% of your ear canal blocked with wax, you will still be able to hear as you only need a pinhole of space to let the sound travel through.

Sometimes the ear does make a lot of wax, or an earwax buildup occurs due to some other reasons. Earwax buildup is not very common though, just 1 in 10 children or 1 in 20 adults have this problem. In those cases, you need to visit your primary care physician to get your ears cleaned before it gets worse. They often use an ear lavage, where warm water is flushed into the ear canal to wash away the wax gently. It works well for the patients, but if anyone has a hole in the eardrum or active infection, excess water may cause pain and drainage. In that case, your physician will deal with it accordingly.

Signs of too much earwax or earwax that is stuck and blocking the ear canal called “ceruminosis” include:

  • Pain or itching
  • A feeling that your ear is full or heavy
  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss or a change in how well hearing aids work for those who use them
  • Odor or discharge

If you see any of these symptoms, it is high time to visit your physician instead of just ignoring the signs or thinking that the wax accumulated is causing the problem.

Some people naturally make more earwax than others do. It varies depending upon ethnicity, age, environment, and even diet. There’s a particular “ick” factor associated with visible earwax, but it’s not a reflection of uncleanliness. It is a sign of normal, healthy ears.

Fun Fact:

If you ever noticed, there’s also a warning on the packaging of cotton-tipped swabs, “Do not insert the swab into the ear canal. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.” But people still think of it as its only purpose. They even find it tempting to clean their ears, or they just don’t read the labels. Whatever the reason, now you know the reason to stop rolling cotton-buds into your ears. And that also goes for unfolded paper clips, pen caps, bobby pins, or whatever else you’ve been using so far!

Still, if you feel like cleaning your ears, you should know that you can clean your outer ears with a little soap, water, and a washcloth. Even shampooing your hair can do the job. As far as ear canals are concerned, enough water enters the ear canal to loosen the accumulated wax during the shower. Most of the time, the wax will fall out on its way when you fall asleep. Additionally, the skin in your ear canal grows in an outward direction that takes extra wax out with it. The left-behind is essential for proper hearing and protecting your eardrums. Don’t you ever again insert a Q-tip or cotton swab as it can puncture your eardrum. No matter how careful and gentle you are, it does push earwax deep inside if not puncturing. It is better to leave the earwax alone.

Until Next Time,

Team Doctor ASKY!