During his interview to Channel 7 Dr Manuel Momjian from Urgent9 talked about wrong use of ear swabs and potential danger they bring. Watch his full interview here…
Below you can read his full interview.
What if I told you that something that you use every day is unsafe for you and your family members? Just about everyone is familiar with cotton swabs or Q-tip swabs which are found in practically all modern households. Even though these swabs have many different uses, the most common use is to remove wax from our ears. Earwax is naturally produced to protect our ears, but most recognize it as a sticky nuisance that plagues the human body. Millions of people stick cotton tipped swabs into their ears daily, usually after bathing to get the final bit of filth from the body. Well, I would like to give most people a wake-up call that this activity is not only unnecessary, but it can be downright dangerous.
A new study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio quantified the risk into some numbers that people can wrap their heads around. Over a 20 year period, there were about a quarter of a million visits to the emergency room by children who suffered some kind of injury related to cotton swab use in the ear. This boils down to about 34 kids daily that visit the emergency room in the United States for ear canal, ear drum, and middle ear injuries and infections related to cotton swab use. That is a whole lot of kids, but it is likely an underestimation because these numbers do not include kids that might have been taken to see their pediatrician, family physician, urgent care doctor, or ENT specialists.
The disturbing part of this study is that over two thirds of the patients evaluated were under the age of 8 years old and over 75% were using the cotton swabs independently when the injury occurred. The idea of sticking a cotton swab into the ear is obviously something that is taught to a child by well intentioned parents. We teach our kids to keep themselves clean, but what if we are unintentionally putting our kids in harm’s way.
So, what is wax anyway and why is it produced in our ears? First it is important to understand some basic anatomy. The ear canal is a long slender hollow tube that helps amplify sounds in order to translate auditory information to the brain. Unfortunately if anything gets into the ear canal such as dust, dirt or even a small insect, it will not likely come out easily and can cause an infection. So the question is, why not cover the opening with something? Well that is exactly why we have wax. Wax functions as natural door into the ear canal and is only found at the opening, which is where our fingers can feel this sticky substance.
Believe it or not, our ears are a self cleaning system and daily cleaning is not necessary. When a cotton swab is put into the ear, the main risk is to push wax deep into the canal where it does not belong. As wax starts to accumulate deep in the ear canal it can dry and form a natural earplug which can decrease hearing and can also be a nidus for infection. Doctors call this cerumen impaction and it usually requires a medical professional to wash or mechanically remove the wax. Most of the time this could be prevented by simply leaving your ears alone.
The risk of cerumen impaction is real with daily ear cleaning, but the risk of a traumatic injury with a cotton swab is much more serious. Accidents do happen regularly. The last thing anyone wants is an accident to occur while using a cotton swab in the ear. Imagine falling over or being bumped accidently and kids are known to regularly participate in horse play that can amplify these risks. Cotton swab related ear injuries can be very serious, sometimes even requiring surgery. So, take my advice and stop putting cotton swabs into your ears.