Do you have a box of cotton tipped swabs in your bathroom for makeup removal, or manicure help? Or perhaps for detail work on your car or for craft projects. Good. But did you, like me, also grow up using the swabs to “clean” the inside of your ears? Chances are, if you are over the age of 40, you did. We were encouraged to do that way back when. If you still follow the practice, though, please stop! Perhaps you are not yet aware of just how much damage you can do to your ears, and it feels like you are doing the right thing. However, your ear health will benefit if you resist the urge to reach inside your ears with a cotton tipped swab! It is unnecessary and downright dangerous to your hearing. No one should ever do it, yet many of us do.
In a recent Washington Post Article, Roberto Ferdman reported that cotton swabs were introduced in 1923 and marketed specifically for ear cleaning for babies and adults at least through 1980. Ferdman also found that it wasn’t until sometime in the 1970’s that the product box added a warning against using the swabs inside the ear canal – although the front of the box labeled them for adult ear care, hobbies and art. Today, the box contains a specific warning against inserting swabs into ear canal. Unfortunately, many consumers just aren’t heeding the warnings. Many of us grew up having our ears cleaned for us, took over the job for ourselves, and maybe even clean our childrens’ ears. It takes a long time to bring about awareness and change a public mindset, especially when a product is still on the market. We think that if we draw some wax out of our ears, we are keeping ourselves clean and more presentable to the world. That would be nice, but it is simply not so.
We also might even be reluctant to stop because “cleaning” our ears with the swabs feels good. As Ferdman noted, “Our ears are filled with sensitive nerve endings, which send signals to various other parts of our bodies. Tickling their insides triggers all sorts of visceral pleasure.” While this feeling, and misconceptions about the benefits of the practice, may have led many of us to continue cleaning our ears on a regular basis, a little bit of knowledge should make quitting cold turkey a snap. I promise you, quitting will be easier than losing those last 5 pounds, or suddenly taking up running, and yet the health benefits are tremendous.
• Having ear wax in normal amounts is healthy and protects your ears – really and truly. It is not dirty. You need ear wax for healthy hearing.
• You risk puncturing your eardrum using cotton tipped swabs, and this may cause a conductive hearing loss- the eardrum would heal, but the damage could be permanent – scary stuff, right?
• Using cotton tipped swabs to clean your ears actually pushes the wax deeper into your ears, and can cause a blockage of the eardrum – you do not want your eardrum blocked.
• Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of temporary hearing loss- protecting your hearing and hearing health should be a health priority for everyone.
• Other less severe, but still troublesome, problems associated with a blockage of the eardrum that can be caused by cleaning the ear with a cotton tipped swab are: earache, fullness in the ear, or a sensation the ear is plugged, tinnitus, ringing, or noises in the ear, itching, odor, or discharge, and coughing – given a choice, I would choose not to have any of these problems if all I had to do was not use a cotton tipped swab.
Facts from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, www.entnet.org/content/earwax-and-care. Comments in blue by the author.
There is no benefit that can come from cleaning your ears or your children’s ears with a cotton tipped swab. So, if you don’t want to endanger your hearing, keep the cotton tipped swabs out of your ears. If you believe that you have excessive wax build up or an ear wax blockage, Dr. Ullauri can do a safe cleaning for you using safe methods and sterile tools. Call Chicago Hearing Care at (312) 643-0782 and we will see you soon. If you prefer email, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amy Weber
Chicago Hearing Care