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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

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

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could cause injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go check it out 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 makers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a popular technique of ear cleaning, should it be avoided? Why are the producers so adamant that you don’t use their own product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is useful

Earwax has a couple of useful functions besides 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 dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

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

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is designed to remove its own earwax. The natural movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s needed from you is regular showering and cleaning the outer 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 dry, itchy feeling and will be more vulnerable to infections.

What you can do instead

There are several commercialized (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer 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 consult with a hearing professional.

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

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