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Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Cotton Buds To Clean Your Ears

Whenever your ears itch, you grab a cotton bud to clean your ears, isn't it? There are people who can't do without their cotton buds (Q-tips) to clean the ear wax. They may seem harmless, but they can be dangerous when you use it to clean your ears.

Doctors and ENT specialists recommend not to use cotton buds to clean the ears because it penetrates into the ear canal which could eventually lead to an ear injury like damaged eardrums or hear loss, etc [1] .

It is not only the cotton buds that most people use to clean their ears, but also other tools like pens and pencils, hairpins, tweezers, paper clips, and straws.

What Is The Role Of The Ear Wax?

Earwax (cerumen) is actually good for your ears because it traps dust and dirt before entering deeper into the ears. This wax acts as a protective shield against airborne particles that may cause ear infections. The main function of the ear wax is to moisten, clean, lubricate and protect the skin of the ear canal.

Ceruminous glands secrete fats and other substances to clean the outer ear canal. These secretions keep the ear canal soft and provide it with a protective acidic layer. This, in turn, protects the ear canal from infections by killing bacteria and fungi. This is how ear wax is formed from these secretions combined with the shedding of skin flakes.

When there is a jaw movement the ear wax is naturally pushed towards the outer ear. So, there is no need to use a cotton bud [2]

Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Cotton Buds To Clean Your Ears

1. Ear wax is beneficial

People think ear wax is dirty, but it's not. Ear wax possesses antimicrobial properties and is produced naturally to protect the ear canal, where the skin is thin and delicate and highly susceptible to infection [3] . So, if there is an excess build-up of ear wax it gets pushed out towards the outer ear.

2. Cotton buds can cause ear injury

The shape, size and texture of the cotton buds tend to further push the ear wax inwards, towards your eardrum instead of pulling it out. Pushing the wax further in can lead to loss of hearing and if the cotton bud is inserted deeply, it could rupture the eardrum or damage the small middle ear bones [4] .

3. Removing ear wax causes dryness

The ear wax acts as a protective shield by creating an acidic environment in the ear canal. Removing the wax often could lead to a rise in ear infections. In addition, ear wax is lubricating and contains antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, so removing it could cause a total dryness and itchy feeling in the ears.

4. Ear wax removes itself

The wax is actually a part of the ear's self-cleaning mechanism and is naturally expelled from the ears without causing any problems. The usage of cotton buds could actually hinder the ear's natural self-cleaning mechanism.

What To Do When There Is Excess Build-up Of Earwax

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 1 in 20 adults, 1 in 10 children and 3 in 10 elderly adults have an excess build-up of earwax. When there is an excess build-up of ear wax in the ears, it causes pain or itching, a feeling that your ear is full, ringing in the ear, odour or discharge and hearing loss [5] .

If you have these symptoms, consult a doctor as they can help remove the earwax safely and effectively.

To Conclude...

To prevent permanent ear damage, avoid using cotton buds. If the build-up of ear wax is bothering you, consult a doctor to remove it.

View Article References
  1. [1] Nagala, S., Singh, P., & Tostevin, P. (2011). Extent of cotton-bud use in ears.The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners,61(592), 662-3.
  2. [2] Burton, M. J., & Doree, C. (2009). Ear drops for the removal of ear wax.Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (1).
  3. [3] Schwaab, M., Gurr, A., Neumann, A., Dazert, S., & Minovi, A. (2011). Human antimicrobial proteins in ear wax.European journal of clinical microbiology & infectious diseases,30(8), 997-1004.
  4. [4] Khan, N. B., Thaver, S., & Govender, S. M. (2017). Self-ear cleaning practices and the associated risk of ear injuries and ear-related symptoms in a group of university students.Journal of public health in Africa,8(2), 555.
  5. [5] Loveman, E., Gospodarevskaya, E., Clegg, A., Bryant, J., Harris, P., Bird, A., Scott, D. A., Davidson, P., Little, P., … Coppin, R. (2011). Ear wax removal interventions: a systematic review and economic evaluation.The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners,61(591), e680-3.
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