Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have more than 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. Penetrating the ear canal could cause 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 professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a widely used method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so insistent that you don’t use their own product in this manner?

We’re glad you asked: here are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has quite a few beneficial functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial qualities 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 dried out, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pushing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can result in an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is designed to remove its own earwax. The normal movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the external ear. All that’s required on your part is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you remove 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 do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with excess earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly educated in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good strategy to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done properly.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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