You’ve more than likely 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. Entering the ear canal could result in injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs, go take a look for yourself.
The truth is, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs feel it’s a bad idea!
But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a commonly used technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so insistent that you don’t use their own product in this manner?
We’re glad you asked: here are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is beneficial
Earwax has quite a few useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial properties to prevent infections, it operates as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent 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 moving most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can bring on an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is fashioned to remove its own earwax. The natural motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the external ear. All that’s required on your part is normal showering and cleaning the outer ear with a cloth.
4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you remove too much, you’ll have a dry, itchy feeling and will be more predisposed to infections.
What you can do instead
There are several commercial (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having problems with excess earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s usually best to consult with a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are thoroughly educated in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a good strategy to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the peace of mind of knowing that it’s being done the right way.