Cotton swabs still not recommended for ear cleaning, experts say

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Alexandria, VA – Experts’ advice for keeping your ears clean remains the same.

In recently updated guidelines, experts from the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation reiterated that cotton swabs are not appropriate tools for removing earwax.

The body naturally produces earwax to keep the ears lubricated, clean and protected, the academy states. Using small objects such as cotton swabs can cause cuts in ear canals and lead to other injuries. Natural jaw motions from talking and chewing typically help push old earwax outside the ear, as does skin growth within the ear canal. Once outside the ear, the wax washes off during bathing.

“Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears,” Dr. Seth R. Schwartz, chair of the guideline update group, said in a press release. “Anything that fits in the ear could cause serious harm to the eardrum and canal with the potential for temporary or even permanent damage.”

The update includes a list of dos and don’ts. Among them:

  • Do seek medical help if you experience ear fullness, ear pain or symptoms of hearing loss not caused by earwax.
  • Do ask your medical provider about home treatment methods for safely removing earwax. Some medical conditions may make the practice unsafe.
  • Don’t clean your ears excessively, as this may irritate the ear canal, cause infection or increase wax impaction changes.
  • Don’t insert anything smaller than your elbow into an ear.

The updated guidelines were published Jan. 3 in the journal Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

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