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 with this product. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”

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

The truth is, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a preferred technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so insistent that you don’t use their own product in this manner?

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

1. Earwax is beneficial

Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to reduce the risk of infections, it operates as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs drive earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually 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 develop into an impaction that will lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is fashioned to remove its own earwax. The natural motions of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s required on your part is normal showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dryness

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

What to do instead

There are several commercial (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having problems with excessive earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly educated in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any ailments you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a wise decision to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done the right way.

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