Cleaning your ears with cotton swabs is a top 5 thing humans do that we know we shouldn’t, like smoking and sitting at a desk. But if you won’t stop for your own health, do it for the children.
Here’s a casual statistic for you: 12,500 children under the age of 18 are treated in U.S. emergency departments for ear injuries related to cotton swabs, CNN reports. Cotton swabs, also known by the brand name Q-tips, also described as “soft-tipped plastic or paper sticks,” are no joke.
Doctors have been cautioning and or evangelizing against the use of cotton swabs for years, but it’s almost as if ear wax is deeply lodged in there because no one seems to be listening. Cotton swabs cause cuts in the ear canal, perforate ear drums and dislocate hearing bones. They also tend to just push wax further into the ear canal. None of those things are good and they can even escalate to hearing loss, dizziness or ringing.
In addition to recklessly using Q-tips, parents are also apparently over-cleaning their children’s (and presumably their own) ears.
“This is not like brushing your teeth every day. Children and adults do not need to clean out the ear canal of wax as part of a routine hygiene practice,” Dr. Kris Jatana told CNN.
Most doctors honestly don’t even want you cleaning your ears at all. Ears are super sensitive and they’re also self-cleaning, meaning if you just wait to wipe away the excess wax when it comes out, you’ll be a-okay. The 2017 clinical guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngoloy-Head and Neck Surgery did not recommend patients putting anything “smaller than your elbow in your ear.”
Still. Ear wax is pretty gross and doctors thankfully recognize that “cerumen impaction” i.e. earwax buildup is a real thing people don’t want to live with. Cerumen impaction, most common in the elderly, occurs when the self-cleaning process doesn’t work particularly well and can cause difficulty hearing. Even in this case, you still shouldn’t use cotton swabs because they push wax deeper. They recommend you talk to your doctor.
A few years ago, The Washington Post reported that Q-tip had made an estimated $208.4 million in sales in 2014 – an increase from $189.3 million the year before.
Q-tip at your own risk.