It's not always a good idea to clean your ears with a cotton swab. This is claimed by the New York-based doctor Leon Chen, whose remarks about cotton swabs are circling the internet.
Using cotton swabs can push more earwax inside than is necessary, but it is also harmful to your ear drum. This is confirmed by Evert Hamans, ENT doctor in the University Hospital in Antwerp. "When you clean your ears with a cotton swab, you push more earwax into your ear canal, by which a clot can form after a few weeks. Many people do not know that that clot can absorb water when swimming or showering, which can lead to bad hearing and tinnitus", says Hamans.
Perforated ear drum
The doctor also points out another danger in cotton swabs. "All to often, we see that people are distracted while cleaning their ears. The children walk in, they have some other matter to attend to, etc. They leave the cotton swab in for just a tiny while, but immediately forget about it. Then they bang into something and the cotton swab perforates their ear drum", he says. According to Hamans, a perforated ear drum is fairly harmless. "It will heal in just a few weeks. But a bang on the ear like that can also damage the ossicle, which can lead to hearing impairment", he says.
Throw away the cotton swabs?
Hamans says that people shouldn't get rid of cotton swabs altogether, however, he insists that they be used correctly. "Cotton swabs are perfect for cleaning the visible part of your ear. You don't have to go any deeper. The skin of the ear canal is very thin and sensitive and a cotton swab can cause micro traumas which cause itch and skin irritation in the ear. This is not the case for everyone, but it occurs frequently", he says. Actually, you don't have to clean your ears. "Our ears clean themselves. They maintain a correct acidity and humidity in our ear canal. The excess earwax comes out on its own accord and can easily be removed. For people with healthy ears, it's a good idea to clean the ears after a washing. The quantity of earwax produced depends on the person and the diameter of the ear canal. People with a narrow ear canal generally produce more wax than those with a wider canal."
People who sleep with earplugs in their ears also face unpleasant side-effects. "It is not natural to block the ear canal. People who sleep with earplugs in their ears can get irritated skin inside the ears, which can eventually lead to infections. It also creates pressure points, which makes it painful in the long run.