Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve most likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some version of this:

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

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

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

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

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

1. Earwax is important

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

2. Cotton Swabs force earwax up against the eardrum

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

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial qualities, so if you remove too much, you’ll have a dried out, itchy sensation 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 less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having problems with too much earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s usually best to seek the advise of 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 properly.

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