You’ve 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 with this product. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs, go check it out for yourself.
The thing 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!
But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a common method of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this manner?
We’re glad you asked: the following are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is important
Earwax has a variety of beneficial functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial qualities to protect against 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 force earwax up against the eardrum
Using cotton swabs is actually 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 develop into an impaction that will result in hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is fashioned to eliminate its own earwax. The normal movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the external ear. All that’s needed on your part is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a washcloth.
4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dry, itchy sensation and will be more predisposed to infections.
What you can do instead
There are a variety of 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. 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 trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any problems you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a wise course of action to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done properly.