You’ve probably heard that it’s never a good idea to stick things in your ears. This applies to buttons, marbles, coins, fists and even objects seemingly designed for that very purpose. If you’re in the habit of cleaning your ears with cotton swabs, you’ll probably be cured of this desire by the time you have finished this article!
Why Cotton Swabs Are a Bad Idea
We have nothing against cotton swab manufacturers, but a 31-year-old man in England is a little less enamored of them after nearly succumbing to a fatal infection after cleaning his ears with swabs.
The ordeal was featured recently in BMJ Case Reports and illustrates the danger posed by cotton swabs. The unidentified male from Coventry, England began experiencing seizures and collapsed one day. Other than occasional pain and hearing loss in his left ear that persisted, off and on, for five years, he’d had no health issues. His physician had prescribed antibiotics to treat what was believed to be a severe ear infection.
Four days before collapsing the pain increased and was accompanied by headaches, nausea and vomiting. The man had experienced some recent memory loss, as well. When examined in the hospital, scans revealed abscesses between the surface of his brain and the protective membrane surrounding it. An impacted cotton swab was discovered in his left ear canal. The man was diagnosed with necrotizing otitis externa, a serious infection that began in the soft tissues of the ear canal and spread to the surrounding bone. The swab was removed under general anesthesia, his ear canal was cleaned, and he was treated with antibiotics. Fortunately, he infection cleared up after 10 weeks and the man is in perfect health – but you can bet he no longer cleans his ears with cotton swabs!
The American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery warns against using cotton swabs to clean your ears because they tend to simply push wax deeper into your ear canals. The same holds true for safety pins and toothpicks; these are even more hazardous as their sharp edges can potentially rupture the eardrum or lead to cuts in the ear canal. More than 263,000 children in the U.S. were treated in emergency rooms for ear injuries related to cotton swab use between 1990 and 2010.
Your CENTA provider wants you to know that it’s never necessary to clean the inside of your ear canal; the ears are naturally self-cleaning, and earwax is beneficial, so wiping away excess earwax from the outer portion of your ear with a washcloth or tissue should be sufficient.
For more information on keeping your ears clean and your hearing healthy, contact your CENTA provider.