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Cotton swabs send 34 children to emergency room daily, study says

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Columbus, OH – About 34 children per day are treated in an emergency room for ear injuries related to cotton swabs, according to a study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Researchers analyzed data from 1990 to 2010 from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and found that about 263,000 children younger than 18 – 67 percent of whom were younger than 8 – were treated for cotton swab-related injuries, an annual average of 12,500. Foreign body sensation (39 percent) and bleeding (35 percent) were the most commonly cited reasons. They also found that 73 percent of the children treated had been using cotton swabs to clean their ears.

“The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them; both of those are incorrect,” Kris Jatana, lead study author and an associate professor in Ohio State’s Department of Otolaryngology, said in a May 8 press release. “The ear canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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