Cotton swabs, actually not for ear canals

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cotton swabs. When you go to the grocery store and add these items to your cart, the primary use in mind would be clearing the ear canal, but many health professionals advise against that practice.

Despite many of us hearing the old wives tale of a person using a cotton swab to clean the wax from their ear and subsequently damaging their hearing, it’s the most common use of these products.

And that tradition continues today in spite of the risks. A recent story published by the Columbus Dispatch reports that a study conducted by Ohio health professionals determined that an average of 34 children are taken to an emergency room daily for treatment of an injury resulting from the use of a cotton swab in the ear canal. It was unclear if that figure was state or nationwide.

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Most of those children are younger than 4, with the remaining number ranging in ages up to 17.

What may be news to you is that the ear actually takes pretty good care of itself, and that wax many of us try to remove regularly serves a purpose. The health professionals in the story say that the substance we call ear wax, otherwise known as cerumen, provides antibacterial protection to the ear, keeps out dust and moisturizes the ear canal.

So, if cotton swabs are dangerous when used to clean an ear canal, how are we supposed to keep all that wax under control?

WebMD recommends leaving your auditory appendages to their own devices. But, if you do feel the urge to clean the outer edge of the canal, use only a washcloth.

But, if for some reason you experience pain or feel as though the canal is clogged with wax, also known as cerumen impaction, the best option is to see a doctor. Other symptoms include loss of hearing, ringing in the ear and an itching or discharge.