Many people remember being warned balefully: ‘Be careful when cleaning your ears, or you’ll lose your hearing!’ Is this real, or is it just another old wive’s tale, like your face freezing in a grimace if the wind changes when you’re pulling a goofy smile?
South Louisiana Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastics (SLENT) has multiple locations in Mandeville, Slidell, and Hammond, Louisiana. The SLENT team wants you to know you can indeed cause ear infections and other serious health issues by using cotton swabs incorrectly. While deafness would be the worst case scenario, it’s just not worth the risk.
The truth about earwax
Earwax isn’t inherently dirty. Ears are self-cleaning, and glands inside your ear produce the wax, which is known as cerumen. This wax slowly works its way out, keeping dirt, dust, and other particles of debris from entering your ear canal.
Improper use of cotton swabs
Cotton swabs are meant to gently clean the shell of the ear, carefully swabbing the whorls and ridges and cleaning away wax that has already worked itself out of the ear. You’re not supposed to stick them into the ear canal, because all this does is push wax in the canal deeper up into the ear.
The end of the swab acts as a stopper, compacting the wax and plugging up the canal. When the canal is closed off, infection can set in and you’ll end up with a painful pressure and throbbing. Untreated, an ear infection can lead to vertigo, tinnitus, or even hearing loss.
Yes, pusing a cotton swab into the ear canal can puncture or destroy the membrane in your eardrum. This is extremely painful and leaves your ear wide open for a serious infection. In one study of ruptured tympanic membrane, patients with burst eardrums reported that 56% had a blunt external trauma to the ear, and 44% had a penetrative trauma related to ear-cleaning.
Worst case scenarios
If you push cotton swabs deeply into your ears, you could cause damage to sensitive inner ear structures and end up with severe long-term consequences such as:
- Partial facial paralysis
- Vertigo accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Loss of taste
- Complete deafness
Moral of the story? Don’t use cotton ear swabs to penetrate the ear canal. Instead, use them to gently swab the outer areas of your ears only. If you feel you have earwax clogging your ear canal, talk to your ear, nose, and throat doctor to see about getting it professionally removed in a way that’s safe for you and your hearing.
Are you experiencing ear discomfort or hearing problems? You can get in touch with the SLENT team by visiting our contact page.