You have more than likely never noticed, but on the backside 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. Penetrating the ear canal could cause injury.”
If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, 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 producers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!
So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a common technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this way?
We’re glad you asked: the following are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.
1. Earwax is useful
Earwax has a variety of useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to protect against infections, it functions 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 pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can develop into an impaction that will result in hearing loss.
3. Earwax removes itself
The ear is fashioned to eliminate 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 needed from you is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a washcloth.
4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness
Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you remove too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy sensation and will be more susceptible to infections.
What you can do instead
There are a variety of commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having issues with excess earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to consult with a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the structure and function of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good strategy to rule out more significant problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done correctly.