Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have probably never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Entering the ear canal could lead to injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go take a look for yourself.

You see, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the makers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a common method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this way?

We’re glad you asked: the following are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is useful

Earwax has a variety of useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to reduce the risk of infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pushing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can cause an impaction that will result in hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is designed to remove its own earwax. The normal motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s called for from you is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you remove too much, you’ll have a dried out, itchy feeling and will be more vulnerable to infections.

What you can do instead

There are a variety of commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having issues with too much earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s usually best to consult a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax accumulation or hearing loss. It’s always a good plan to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s needed, you’ll get the assurance of knowing that it’s being done correctly.

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