When I was younger, a friend’s grandmother told me that you should never put anything smaller than your foot in your ear. As odd as it sounded to my ten-year-old brain, it stuck with me, and to this day, I generally let my ears be, even when they get really itchy. It turns out, my friend’s grandmother was right; it is not wise to put things in your ear, especially a cotton swab. Let’s dig in to find out why and what you can do instead to keep your ears healthy.
The use of cotton swabs in ears is common practice
It is something we see all the time, people “cleaning” their ears using cotton swabs. You even see well-intending parents using cotton swabs on very young ears because they have bought into the cultural premise that it is “good hygiene.” The thought is that ear wax, which is what people are trying to rid their ears of, is some kind of dirt that needs to be extracted. The problem is that earwax is in the ear for a reason. It serves a purpose and helps to keep bacterial and fungal infections at bay. It is in the ear the same way that tears are in the eye.
The ear has a built-in cleaning mechanism
The human body is an incredible machine with built-in cleaning mechanisms that we don’t really see happening. As far as the ear is concerned, skin from the ear canal migrates outwards, and as it grows, it brings out the wax with it. The wax moves slowly from the inside to the outside part of the ear. From here, you can clean it – sticking only to parts of the ear that you can see.
The main issues with using a cotton swab to clean the ear
When you put a cotton swab inside your ear canal, it can push the earwax in instead of removing it. You can push in pretty far, and this tends to create a larger ball of wax that is out of sight, which can end up interfering with your hearing. You may not notice any issues right away, but over time, your hearing can become impaired.
Another concern when using a cotton swab is that you are removing protective layers of wax that your body builds up on purpose. You can also create small cuts in the ear canal, and bacteria that are found in the ear can become established. For instance, people who regularly use cotton swabs in their ears tend to develop swimmer’s ears more frequently than those who don’t use swabs.
There is also the risk that you will damage your eardrum with a cotton swab. When a cotton swab is pushed into the ear too deeply it can easily cause an injury to the eardrum. If you use cotton swabs in your ear to absorb water after a shower, you may forget that it is in there and inadvertently push it in further, causing an injury.
What if my ear itches?
A lot of people employ cotton swabs to relieve an itchy ear; however this is not a good practice. Earwax is there to help prevent an itchy ear, and the more you use cotton swabs, the more your ears itch.
What if I make a ton of earwax?
Some people make extra earwax in the same way that people make excess tartar on their teeth. Interestingly enough, it is often people who use cotton swabs regularly that have an earwax problem. Once the cotton swab use stops, the ears often regulate back to average ear wax production. There are also proper irrigation techniques performed by a medical professional that can be used if necessary.
How to properly clean your ears
Again, only clean the portion of your ear that you can see. Use a clean cloth soaked in warm water to gently clean the portion that you can see. Don’t push anything inside the part of the ear that you can’t see, EVER!
An interesting note here is that the makers of cotton swabs never intended them to be used inside the ear canal. Check the package – it most likely says to not place inside the ears!
-The Alternative Daily