Audiology Associates of Westchester - White Plains, NY

Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have most likely never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs there’s a warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. 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 doctors, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a common method of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so adamant 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 useful

Earwax has a couple of useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to prevent infections, it operates 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 drive 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 cause an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive 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 to do instead

There are a variety of commercial (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having issues with too much earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to seek the advise of a hearing professional.

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

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