Cotton Swabs Linked to Pediatric Ear Injuries

As a child, you were probably told to clean inside your ears. But one common cleaning method—scrubbing inside the ear with a cotton swab—could be doing more harm than good.

Child Ear Injuries by the Numbers

A recent study looked at emergency room and doctor’s office visits to treat cotton swab-related ear injuries among children between 1990 and 2010. During that time, there were more than 263,000 of these injuries—about 12,540 every year.

Younger children were injured more often—67 percent of all patients were younger than age 8. About 40 percent were age 3 or younger. Most of the injuries occurred while the patient was using a cotton swab to clean inside his or her own ears. Injury types included bleeding, ear pain, hearing loss, and dizziness.

Control Earwax Without Swabs

Earwax is perfectly natural. Your body produces it as a way to clean the ear canal, as well as lubricate it and protect it from bacteria.

In general, inner ears don’t need to be cleaned unless earwax starts building up near the outside of the ear. Even then, a damp rag will usually do the trick. Using a cotton swab to clean inside the ear can lead to impacted earwax, which can cause:

  • Hearing loss

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Itching

  • Pain

If you’re worried about earwax building up inside your ear, try other options, such as earwax removal drops or irrigation (squirting water into the ear), which can be performed at home or at the doctor’s office.


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