Cleaning your ear with a cotton tip applicator may feel good, but be warned: You could risk a trip to the emergency room. In fact, the multi-purpose cotton swab has already sent thousands of children into hospitals all over the United States. Researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio analyzed cases from 1990 to 2010 and have uncovered some surprising figures. Over the course of 21 years, an estimated 263,000 children below 18 were treated for cotton tip applicator-related injuries. Breaking it down further puts the numbers at 12,500 annually, or about 34 injuries each day, reported MedicalXpress.com.
According to the researchers, about 73 percent of the injuries occurred while the ears were being cleaned with cotton swabs. Playing with cotton tip applicators resulted in 10 percent of the injuries, while nine percent of children were hurt when they fell with cotton tip applicators still in their ears. Children who were left to use cotton tip applicators by themselves accounted for 77 percent of the injuries; parents and siblings who used cotton swabs to clean the children’s ears comprised 16 percent and six percent of the injuries, respectively.
Of the injuries suffered by the children, the most common ones were foreign body sensation (30 percent), perforated ear drums (25 percent), and soft tissue injuries (23 percent).
“The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them; both of those are incorrect,” senior study author Dr. Kris Jatana said. Jatana then explained: “The ears canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the eardrum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear.”
William Shapiro, audiologist and clinical associate professor at NYU Langone, further elaborated by stating that earwax being close to the eardrum would make it difficult for the delicate membrane to vibrate, this, in turn, can lead to hearing loss. The worst thing that can happen with continued cotton swab use is accidentally puncturing the eardrum and bringing about permanent hearing loss.
As disgusting as earwax can be, it’s in our ears for a reason. The primary function of earwax is to keep the likes of insects out of our ears canals, where they can cause serious damage to our hearing. Earwax also acts as an anti-fungal and antibacterial substance by fighting off infections within and around our ears. Removing earwax can also make your ears drier, since earwax also serves as a natural lubricant for your ears. “It’s not a bad thing to have wax,” Shapiro told BusinessInsider.com.
Ears only need to be cleaned if they feel full or have accumulated waxy buildup that interferes with hearing. If you do feel the urge to clean your ears, however, there are safer ways to do it. Ontologist Dr. Erich Voigt has recommended washing your ears with soap and water, and then mopping out the excess with a towel-covered finger. Another method involves putting in a few drops of a mixture of one part white vinegar, one part rubbing alcohol, and one part water at body temperature.
The bottom line is: Try to avoid putting anything in your ear. In the words of Shapiro: “Don’t put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.”
That’s good advice.
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