You have probably 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. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go take a look for yourself.
You see, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!
So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a preferred technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this manner?
We’re excited you asked: the following are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is invaluable
Earwax has several beneficial functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to reduce the risk of infections, it operates 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 force earwax up against the eardrum
Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can cause an impaction that will result in hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is fashioned to remove its own earwax. The natural movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the external ear. All that’s required from you is regular showering and cleaning the outer ear with a washcloth.
4. Too much earwax removal causes dry skin
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you remove too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy sensation and will be more prone to infections.
What to do instead
There are several commercialized (and homemade) 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 difficulties hearing, it’s usually best to talk to a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are thoroughly 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 good idea to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done the right way.