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Why Cotton Swabs are Bad For Your Ears

Updated on May 12, 2016

Many people believe that by sticking a cotton swab into their ears can remove excess wax and debris. Next time you see people poke inside their ears with a cotton swab, you need to know that many catastrophes resulting from using these cotton swabs/buds and 7,000 people every year attend hospital with injuries – more than are harmed by razor blades.

People use a number of items to clean their ears and some of the most common ones found in the doctor’s office are cotton swabs, straws, hair pins, pens and pencils, tweezers, toys and paper clips. While those items are only a partial list, it’s very important to know that nothing should be placed inside our ears to remove debris and dirt. This is very dangerous as it can damage your ear canal or causing hearing loss.

Cotton swab can cause hearing loss
Cotton swab can cause hearing loss


Our ear canal has specialized cells that produce cerumen (also known as ear wax). This mixture of exfoliated skin and secretions is produced in the outer third of our ear canal. For some people, ear wax accumulates much faster than others which can affect hearing, especially if it becomes waterlogged and expands (after swimming).

If our ears are blocked with wax then it can be tempting to use cotton swabs to clean them out, in fact, by doing so could only make situation worse. Wax is actually beneficial to our ears as it causes foreign bodies to adhere to it. Beside providing an anti-bacterial properties, it can also prevent dirt from going further into our ears.

When you put a cotton swab into your ear, it pushes the wax down the ear canal towards your eardrum and impacts it. The eardrum is easily reached with a swab. There is a risk of perforating the eardrum (if the swab is inserted too far) causing bleeding, sudden pain, and temporary hearing loss. In many cases, the injury heals itself but if the swab damage the tiny bones deep inside your ear (ossicles) then dizziness and permanent hearing loss can result.

Ear Self-cleaning

According to Oxford University Hospitals, our ears are actually ‘self-cleaning’ and most people have no need to clean their ears. The skin in our ears acts like a conveyor belt. It travels along the ear canal from our ear drum bringing any debris with it. When people use cotton swabs or anything else to clean their ears, they are actually disrupting the ears’ natural cleaning system.

The outer part of the ear that can be seen does need a cleaning but this can be done with a little soap and water. During showers or hair washing, enough water enters into our ear canal to loosen the wax that has accumulated. Not only that, the skin in our ear canal grows naturally in an outward, spiral pattern. When it sloughs off, the ear wax also goes with it. Sometimes when we are sleeping, the wax will loosen and fall out on its own.

For those who have heavy wax build-up, the doctor can help you by using a little peroxide mixed with water and injecting it into your ear.This process is painless and effective in removing impacted wax.


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