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Are Cotton Swabs Harmful or Helpful?

Are Cotton Swabs Harmful or Helpful?

A recent article was posted on titled “Cotton Swabs Send 34 Kids to the ER Every Day.” The article reports on a new study that showed that “between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 263,000 children were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for injuries to their ears from cotton tip applicators.”  This is around 12,500/year or 34 each day.  Those numbers are just the kids!  We have a problem, a hidden  problem, and we have had it for quite some time.

Every day for over 100 years, people have been using cotton swabs to clean their ears.  For generations, millions of people have happily cleaned their ears (and everybody else’s) with cotton swabs.  .  This new study clearly shows that apparently there were, and continue to be, a whole lot of unfortunate people.  When the problem was recognized in the 1970s,, actual warning labels were added to boxes of cotton tipped swabs.  Did the labels help?  Those kids from back then are now the  adults we see with these injuries.  The label is still on the box, go look!

We teach children how to brush their hair, take baths, brush their teeth; and among everything else, clean their ears.  Over time, we have improved the message delivered to parents and children alike about how to do each of these tasks in the safest manner.  We have done a very wonderful job with most of these things, but 12,500 injured children per year tell us that we still need to work on our message about cleaning the ears.

Frequently, a part of the cotton material is left in the ear canal or the eardrum is ruptured.  The eardrum is so thin that it is semi-transparent and can be ruptured with surprisingly little force.  Do not forget pain.  A ruptured eardrum hurts bad, really bad.  Hard to believe that something as simple as a cotton swab, used every day by millions, can cause injuries such as dizziness, infection and worst case scenario, irreversible hearing loss

When a child is cleaning their ears, always have them work under your supervision.  Be sure to teach them to clean only the outer parts of the ear and NEVER the ear canal itself.  Earwax is normal, serves important functions, and is to be expected.  Excess earwax will dry out naturally then be moved out of the ear canal by the action of chewing.  On the way out, earwax may stick to the outer part of the ear.  By gently cleaning the outer part of the ear, you will safely remove any wax that may be visible.  If you feel there is excessive/unusual earwax buildup or discharge, please consult your personal physician or ENT specialist.

Please learn and pass the word about the dangers of cotton swabs in ears.  While they one of the most useful things ever invented, like many modern conveniences there are correct ways and incorrect ways to use them so they are helpful and not harmful While keeping your ears clean is great, be sure to do so safely.


Published on May 17, 2017