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Why You Should Never Use Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears

May 05, 2016

Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve more than likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Entering the ear canal could lead to injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go check it out for yourself.

You see, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a prevalent technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their own product in this way?

We’re glad you asked: here are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is beneficial

Earwax has quite a few useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to reduce the risk of infections, it works as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dried out, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re moving most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can result in an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is designed to remove its own earwax. The normal motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s called for on your part is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you remove too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy sensation and will be more prone to infections.

What you can do instead

There are several commercial (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with surplus earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a wise decision to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the peace of mind of knowing that it’s being done correctly.

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