cotton-tipped swabs

Ear, nose and throat specialists like to caution us never to stick anything smaller than our elbows in our ears. It seems too many of us don’t pay close enough attention, however, especially when it comes to cotton-tipped swabs.

What Are the Hazards of Cotton-Tipped Swabs?

A new report in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery confirms the traditional warning (Carniol et al, JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, online Dec. 21, 2017). Researchers reviewed medical records of ear injuries reported to emergency departments between 2010 and 2014. They were specifically searching for cases of eardrum perforations.

In more than half of the cases they found, the eardrum injury was caused by sticking something into the ear. Roughly 45 percent of these cases were due to cotton-tipped swabs.

How Should You Clean Your Ears?

The authors emphasize that such applicators should never be used to clean the ears. Instead, they recommend using a damp washcloth after a bath or shower. Earwax is water soluble and concentrated in the outer third of the ear, and washcloths are not involved in eardrum injuries.

Previous Warnings:

This is not the first time investigators have reported that cotton-tipped swabs can injure the ears. Researchers focusing specifically on children’s ear injuries implicated these applicators in 2017 (Ameen et al, Journal of Pediatrics, July 2017).

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