Why You Shouldn't Use Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears
You’ve probably never noticed, but on the back 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 result in injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go take a look for yourself.
The thing is, 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 feel it’s a bad idea!
So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a popular technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their own product in this manner?
We’re glad you asked: here are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is essential
Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to protect against infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.
2. Cotton Swabs drive earwax up against the eardrum
Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pushing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can develop into an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is structured to remove its own earwax. The normal movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move 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 dryness
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll have a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more susceptible to infections.
What you can do instead
There are a variety of 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 trouble hearing, it’s always best to consult with a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that's required, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done the right way.