Are Cotton Swabs Bad for Your Ears?

an audiologist is administering a professional ear exam

We have all heard that cotton swabs are bad for our ears, but is this really true? Surely if care is taken and we don’t penetrate too far, there should be little reason for us not to reach for the packet of cotton swabs that we keep in our cupboards at home. 

Well, here’s the thing. Cotton swabs are bad for your ears. This should be obvious to you, as there will be warnings on the back of the box telling you not to use them in your ears! Complications can occur, including infection and injury, even if you think you are being careful with the swab. Accidents and mistakes do happen, so the next time you are tempted to reach for a cotton swab, think twice. You might damage your ears in the process, not only in the short-term but in the long-term too.

Why shouldn’t I use a cotton swab?

The fact of the matter is this: You might not need to clean your ears at all. Despite its ugly appearance, earwax can actually help to keep your ears clean. It can keep your ears from getting too dry. It can stop fungi from growing within your ears. And earwax traps dust and dirt, so as old earwax dries up and is pushed out of your ear, any harmful toxins are removed with it. So, despite your natural inclination to reach for a cotton swab, there is often no need to bother, as your ears are self-cleaning. 

But if you do insert a cotton swab, one of the following problems could occur.

You could push the earwax deeper into your ear canal. This will disrupt the natural cleaning mechanism of the ear, as new wax won’t be allowed to build-up to push the old wax out of your ear. This could cause you to experience hearing loss, and you might begin to experience an ear infection because of the bacteria still trapped inside your ear.

Should you insert the cotton swab too far into the structures of your ear; you could potentially cause yourself an injury. More commonly, this could include a ruptured eardrum. This can lead to middle ear infections and hearing loss, and you might need to have surgery to repair the damage you have caused to your eardrum. 

The tip of the cotton swab could come off when placed inside your ear. As with any foreign object that gets lodged within your ear, you will start to feel discomfort and pain, and you might also experience hearing loss. You might also cause yourself further damage if you stick your finger or any other implement in your ear to remove the tip of the cotton swab. 

How should I clean my ears?

While there are a variety of ear cleaning methods available on the market, in most cases, you won’t need to clean your ears yourself. As we suggested earlier, your ears are self-cleaning, so if you have no build-up of wax, you don’t need to interfere with your ears at all. However, if you feel as if you do need to clean your ears, perhaps because you are experiencing hearing loss because of a build-up of wax, visit your audiologist. With professional advice and treatment, you will reduce the risk of damage being caused to your ear through your own self-care methods at home.