Cotton-Tipped Swabs Send Dozens Of Children To The Emergency Room Every Day


Nearly three dozen children in the United States are sent to hospital emergency departments daily because of injuries caused by using cotton-tipped swabs for cleaning their ears. The highest rate of these cotton-tipped swab-related ear injuries occur in children below the age of 3.

Dangers Of Using Cotton-Tipped Applicators

Kris Jatana, from the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said that despite being seemingly harmless, cotton-tipped applicators certainly come with a lot of potential risks when they are used to clean the ears.

For the new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, Jatana and colleagues looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which include those from emergency departments to evaluate the extent of ear injuries associated with cotton-tipped swabs in children.

The researchers found that from 1990 to 2010, 263,338 children below 18 years old were sent to the emergency room because of ear injuries linked to the use of cotton-tipped swabs. The number is equivalent to about 12,500 incidents per year or about 34 injuries per day.

About 40 percent of these emergency visits were attributed to the feeling of something having stuck in the ears of the children. About 35 percent were because of bleeding and about 17 percent were because of ear pain.

After examination, about 30 percent were found to have a foreign body in their ears while a quarter of the children had broken eardrums, or tympanic membrane perforations. About 23 percent had soft tissue injuries to their ear.

Ear Injuries In Children Mostly Caused By Cleaning

Most of the injuries happened at home and nearly all children were released without requiring hospitalization. Of the cases where the cause of the injury was documented, researchers found that most were due to cleaning.

Jatana said that they have long learned that it is not safe to insert cotton-tipped swabs into ears, and ear, nose, and throat doctors do not recommend these products for cleaning out earwax.

"The ear canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear," Jatana said. "These products may seem harmless, but this study shows how important it is that they not be used to clean ears."

Alyssa Hackett from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the research, said that serious injuries rarely occur but what commonly happens is that the wax gets pushed deep into the ear canal instead of being removed by the cotton swab, which then causes temporary hearing loss.

How To Clean The Ears

Experts recommend using a cotton ball to remove the wax visible from the entrance to the ear or using soapy water and a wash cloth when bathing.

"Despite manufacturers' warning labels and clinicians' advice to avoid using cotton-tip applicators (CTAs) inside the ear canal, CTA use remains the most common cause of accidental penetrating ear injury in children," the researchers wrote in their study.

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