How Cotton Swabs Can Be Damaging to the Ears

How Cotton Swabs Can Be Damaging to the Ears | Dr. Ali Ghahary

In a recent article published by CBC this week, health experts warn about the dangers of using cotton swabs.

While cotton swabs might seem harmless and are quite commonly used by many individuals, family physicians in Dr. Ali Ghahary, and Otolaryngologists (also known as ear, nose and throat specialists) across Canada and the United States, say using cotton swabs to clean your ears can do some serious damage. These healthcare professionals have seen everything from impacted wax to punctured eardrums, pain, and even ear infections – all the result of using cotton swabs on a regular basis. You could even do damage to your hearing.

Contrary to popular belief, our ears actually need earwax; it works as a defense mechanism and helps combat infectious microorganisms. In many cases the ears do not need to be cleaned – for two different reasons. First, the ears have a self-cleaning mechanism; and secondly, because when we shower or bathe enough water often gets into the ear canal and looses the accumulated wax, and can sometimes be wiped away by using a warm washcloth. However, some people tend to produce more earwax – and much quicker than others, which can lead to wax build-up. In these cases, patients may have difficulty hearing and have a clogged or plugged sensation of the ears, hear ringing, as well as notice some pain. It’s also not uncommon to feel dizzy as a result of wax build-up.

When any of the aforementioned symptoms occur, the wax may need to be removed by a trained medical professional. At Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, Dr. Ali Ghahary removes wax from patients’ ears by irrigating them. (Irrigation can be done with warm water, sodium bicarbonate, as well as prescription-strength eardrops.) Depending on how severe the wax build-up is, gentle suction may also need to be applied. While this might sound like an uncomfortable procedure, it is generally quite quick and painless.

While ear infections are quite rare as a cause of wax build-up, they can still occur. The most common symptom associated with ear infections are earaches, which can be mild to severe. While most ear infections will go away on their own, Dr. Ali Ghahary may need to prescribe patients with a course of antibiotics (either taken orally, or in the form of eardrops) to get rid of the infection. To treat the pain associated with the ear infection, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends treating it with over-the-counter pain relief medication such as acetaminophen.