You’ve probably never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs there’s a warning that is some version of this:
“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to 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 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 common technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this way?
We’re glad you asked: the following are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is invaluable
Earwax has several useful functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to protect against infections, it functions 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 is actually dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re moving most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can develop into an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is configured 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 called for on your part is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a washcloth.
4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll have a dry, itchy sensation and will be more predisposed to infections.
What you can do instead
There are several commercialized (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 too much earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to consult a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are extensively educated in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done the right way.