Cotton Swabs Cause Injury: Here's How You Should Clean Your Ears, According To Experts


Many ear injuries associated with cotton swabs have been recorded for years, especially among children. But without this household staple, how should you really clean your ears? Here is what the experts are saying.

Cotton Swab Injuries

The cotton-tip applicator (CTA) or more commonly known as Q-tips or cotton swabs was invented in 1923 and since then it has been a staple in many households for various reasons, though most especially for ear cleaning.

However, a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that between the years of 1990 and 2010, 263,338 children were taken to the emergency room due to cotton swab related ear injuries. This amounts to about 34 injuries per day.

Results of the study show that 99.4 percent of injuries occur at home, 73.2 percent are related to ear cleaning, such as broken eardrums.

How You Should Clean Your Ears

So if cotton swabs aren't exactly safe to use for ear cleaning, what is the best and safest way to clean our ears?

Authors of the study believe that some of the best and gentlest ways to clean the ears are with the use of ear drops for easy removal of ear wax, gentle irrigation, or with professional help from otolaryngologists who are equipped with the proper cleaning tools.

Other experts agree, as the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head And Neck Surgery believes in taking special care of the ears, especially the ear canal and the eardrums. The very first thing they suggest is to stop using cotton swabs and other invasive materials.

What is their method of choice? Anything that doesn't involve placing things into the ear canal.

First, the outer ears must be washed with a cloth. In the matter of removing ear wax blockage, experts suggest placing a few drops of agents that can soften and liquefy the blockage. These agents could be in the form of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin, store-bought drops, or even hydrogen peroxide.

Irrigation or ear syringing may also be done by consulting a professional, or with home irrigation kits, and manual removal of wax can be performed by an otolaryngologist using suction and a magnifying instrument to see the ear canal clearly.

Manual removal, however, is mostly preferred by people with narrow ear canals, skin problems that affect the ear canal, a weakened immune system, or diabetes.

When Should Ears Be Cleaned?

Though experts see minimal reasons for purposely cleaning the ears, there are certain circumstances in which the ears must be cleaned. This is when ear wax build up is so great that it causes a condition called cerumen impaction, which can cause partial hearing loss, earache, ringing in the ear, coughing, and ear discharge.

Still, they stress that the presence of ear wax or cerumen is healthy in normal amounts, and is a protective, anti-bacterial, and self-cleaning substance, and the lack of it can result to dry and itchy ears.

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