You’ve most likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some version of this:
“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs, go check it out for yourself.
The truth is, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals 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 preferred technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the producers so adamant that you don’t use their own product in this manner?
We’re glad you asked: the following are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is invaluable
Earwax has several useful functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to reduce the risk of 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 forcing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can cause an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is constructed to eliminate 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 required 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 qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dry, itchy sensation and will be more predisposed to infections.
What to do instead
There are several commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having issues with excessive earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to seek the advise of a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are extensively educated in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any health issues 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 the right way.