Odds are that if you’ve tried cleaning earwax (also called cerumen) out of your ears at home, you used a cotton swab (commonly called a Q-tip). While this is a very common practice for many people, it is quite dangerous for your ears. In fact, Scotland has even banned plastic cotton buds—the first country in the UK to do so. To protect your ears and your hearing, you should never insert anything into your ear canal to remove earwax or for any other reason.
Why Cotton Swabs Are Dangerous to Your Ears
Medical professionals constantly recommend against using cotton swabs or other objects in the ear to remove earwax or to clean out dirt or debris. This is because you can easily damage your ear. A cotton swab can easily reach the eardrum when inserted in your ear canal, and the eardrum is very fragile. Even if you try to be gentle, you could puncture your delicate eardrum without the use of much pressure. A ruptured eardrum is very painful and can even result in hearing loss.
To avoid rupturing your eardrum or causing any other type of damage to your ears or your hearing, you should never insert a cotton swab or any other object in your ear, including your finger, a hairpin, a pen or pencil, tweezers, or a paper clip. In addition to endangering your eardrum, inserting objects like these into your ear canal can lead to impacted earwax, rather than earwax removal.
How to Clean Your Ears Without Harming Them
If you want to clean your ears without endangering your hearing health, simply use a warm, damp washcloth with soap to clean the outer area of your ear while you bathe or shower. Be gentle and do not insert the washcloth or your finger into your ear canal.
As for removing earwax, you do not need to physically remove earwax on your own. Specialized cells in your ears naturally produce earwax in order to keep your ears clean. For most people, any excess earwax falls out of your ears while you sleep, or is cleaned out of your ears when you shower. In addition, the skin of your ears naturally grows in an outward spiral. Thus, as the skin grows outward and sloughs off, so does the earwax.
If you believe you have excess earwax that is building up and causing pain or a decreased ability to hear, you should see a hearing healthcare professional. They will be able to remove the earwax buildup in a safe way that does not harm your eardrum or your hearing. This is usually done by injecting water mixed with hydrogen peroxide into the ear. If you often experience earwax buildup, you may want to ask your hearing professional whether you could remove excess earwax at home with a similar method.
To learn more about why you should never use cotton swabs to clean your ears, or if you are concerned that you have earwax buildup or any other type of hearing issue, please feel free to contact our hearing healthcare professional today. We are eager to assist you!