The Dangers Of The Lowly Cotton Swab! (Really?)

ear doctor looking in woman's ear

Never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.

When you think of the common cotton swab you might think of applying makeup or cleaning intricate places but did you ever imagine you could put the words Danger and cotton swab in the same sentence?

Now, this causes my thoughts to imagine Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power (or more recently Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow) in a swashbuckling role wielding - a cutlass sized cotton swab... A pretty ridiculous picture, no?

Audiologists are a conservative bunch when it comes to protecting your hearing so sage advice in audiology circles sounds like this:

“Never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow."

Pretty clever, eh? (never heard that one? It’s a familiar saying in the hearing health world).

Many people regularly use cotton swabs to clean out their ears. Well, guess what: This common method is not only unnecessary to keep your ears clean, but it's also unsafe.

According to Healthy Hearing, your body naturally removes the majority of ear wax build-up, so using cotton swabs creates a superfluous risk. In many cases, improper use of cotton swabs can result in a punctured eardrum, which is extremely painful and can contribute to conductive hearing loss. So before sticking these cleaning implements in your ears, consider the dangers of cotton swabs and how they can potentially be harmful to your long-term hearing health.

Why you shouldn’t use cotton swabs to clean your ears

Slate points out that people use a wide range of odd implements to clean their ears, including pens, paper clips and tweezers. However, the only part of your ear that requires cleaning is the outer ear – the part you can see when you look in a mirror. Use a soapy, wet washcloth to gently scrub this part of your ear, but never put anything into your ear canal.

However, many people use cotton swabs to clean out wax from the inner ear. This is not in fact the purpose of cotton swabs, they are actually intended for purposes such as cleaning silverware or other items that require a fine touch. The danger here is that a cotton swab can easily come in contact with the eardrum, causing damage that can contribute to hearing loss. Furthermore, cotton swabs tend to just push ear wax around, and can actually cause wax to get lodged and hardened in the inner ear, according to New York University department of otolaryngology. This can cause impaction, which is when hardened ear wax causes a blockage that can cause dizziness, tinnitus or hearing loss. Avoid using cotton swabs in order to reduce your risk of impaction or puncturing an eardrum.

How the ear rids itself of wax

It’s important to note that ear wax actually has a number of healthy functions. It is another amazing part of the design of the human body that is very clever and almost completely unknown. Ear wax serves as a lubricant and natural antibiotic that is a crucial in defending the ear from foreign objects, according to NYU. Therefore, some wax is necessary to protect your aural health. The body is naturally programmed to rid the body of ear wax as skin grows. The skin in your ear canal grows outward in a spiral pattern, which helps to push wax out of the ear. The ear wax will then loosen and fall off on its own while you are sleeping. Any ear wax that accumulates on the outer ear can be cleaned using the washcloth method previously mentioned.

In case of ear wax buildup

Different people produce ear wax at different rates, so in some cases a person may be prone to natural ear wax buildup. Sometimes ear wax may build up as a result of impaction or just happen naturally due to a person’s natural production. In this situation, visit a hearing health care professional. Many medical articles on the subject say that many at home solutions and devices are useless or cause other problems and are best avoided. Do not try to remove the wax yourself. Ear wax removal is a painless procedure in which a professional could use suction or water and peroxide to remove wax from the ear. If this becomes a recurring problem, schedule an appointment with a professional to discuss safe solutions that can be done at home.

If you are concerned about hearing loss due to ear wax build up, contact your local AccuQuest Audiologist or hearing health care professional who during a routine hearing evaluation can perform a quick video otoscopy to inspect your ears for build up so schedule an appointment today.

If you want to learn more about: How your Hearing Works; about Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids; about how Hearing aids work and about why it is a good idea to see an Audiologist or Hearing Health Professional and more… click here to view and download your own copy of AccuQuest’s Journey to Better Hearing.

Improper use of cotton swabs can result in a punctured eardrum, which is extremely painful and can contribute to conductive hearing loss.