Avoid Cotton Swabs When Cleaning Your Ears

In Hearing Health by Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD

Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD
Latest posts by Dr. Maya Berenson, AuD (see all)

One of the most traditionally widespread methods of cleaning your ears is also one of the most dangerous. Cotton swabs, also known as cotton buds or Q-Tips, are regularly used to clean the inside of the ear canal, especially to prevent earwax build-ups. However, the truth is that they often end up doing a lot more harm than good. Here, we’re going to look why you should avoid cotton swabs, what alternatives there are, and why cleaning your ears may not be as necessary as you believe.

It’s Ineffective And Counter-Productive

One of the best reasons to stop using cotton swabs is the simplest. It doesn’t work. You may have seen some earwax on a swab in the past and believed it was effective. However, the truth is that while you may be lifting some of the earwax from the inside of your ear, you are likely to be pushing even more wax deeper inside. This can result in an earwax buildup, also known as an impaction. You may end up causing the problem you wanted to prevent.

It’s Potentially Very Dangerous

Earwax impactions can be potentially dangerous. If left alone, they can cause both temporary and permanent hearing loss, ear infections and damage to the interior of the ear. There are plenty of other dangers to using a cotton swab or any other small tool, to clean the interior of the ear. You may scratch or irritate the sensitive skin, leaving it open to infection. What’s more, you can easily puncture or rupture your eardrum, both incredibly painful things.

It’s Probably Not Necessary

In most cases, you do not need to clean your ears regularly. You might produce more wax than others, but it’s purely beneficial most of the time. It protects the sensitive interior and cleans out germs, dirt and debris. Additionally, it cleans itself. The only time you should be thinking about cleaning your ears, it should be because you have symptoms of an impaction, such as: feeling like your ear is blocked, hearing loss, odd odors from the ear, tinnitus or pain in the ear. If you have regularly suffered impactions in the past, it may be wise to arrange a preventative cleaning once or twice a year with your hearing professional.

There Are Safer Alternatives

If your earwax cleaning is purely for comfort or because you feel like it is too visible, simply use a dry washcloth after a warm shower to wipe it away. If you’re worried about a potential buildup or impaction, visit your hearing care provider. They can inspect the ear and use manual and specialist tools to clean it if there is, in fact, an impaction. Because they are able to see what they’re doing and have plenty of experience in cleaning ears, they can ensure that it’s done in the safest manner possible.

Remember, don’t hesitate to call your hearing care provider if you believe that you have an earwax buildup. Unlike cotton swabs, they can make sure that your ear is cleaned safely if you need a cleaning in the first place.