Should you use cotton swabs to clean your ears? – audiologist serving Chico CA

Should you use cotton swabs to clean your ears? – audiologist Chico CA

Many people use cotton swabs to clean out their ears on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the risks of doing so. We want to make sure that everyone understands that using cotton swabs inside of your ears can be problematic for a few reasons.

What is earwax? – audiologist Chico CA

Earwax is a thick substance produced by the ear canal to protect itself. It creates a watertight seal for the delicate membrane of the ear canal, protecting it from damage. Earwax is also slightly acidic, which helps it to protect the ear canal from infections by discouraging the growth of bacteria. Those who remove all of the earwax from the ear canal each day are at a higher risk for getting infections like otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear,” which causes itching and discomfort of the ear canal.

Impacted earwax – audiologist Chico CA

Cleaning out earwax with a cotton swab pushes at least as much wax down into the ear canal as it removes. Over a period of time, the wax becomes compacted into the ear canal. Once it’s compressed, it becomes much harder for the body to remove the wax. This type of compressed wax is called impacted earwax.

When earwax becomes impacted, it sits against the tympanic membrane (the eardrum) and prevents it from moving properly. This can cause sounds to appear muffled. People sometimes go to their doctors believing that they have hearing loss, only to find that the cause is impacted earwax. Once the wax is removed, then the hearing returns to normal. Avoiding the use of cotton swabs in the ears can avoid this situation.

Ruptured eardrums – audiologist Chico CA

There are also more serious potential consequences to using cotton swabs in your ears. The ear canal is not very long; it’s only about an inch long in adults, and shorter in children. A typical cotton swab is much longer than one inch, so it’s easy to reach the end of the ear canal with the cotton swab. In fact, if the cotton on the swab is completely inside of your ear, you’re probably touching the end of it.

At the end of the ear canal is the eardrum. This is a thin membrane, and is easily ruptured with a cotton swab. When the eardrum is ruptured, you won’t be able to hear normally from that ear until it heals. This can take 2-3 months. In some cases, surgical repair of the eardrum may be necessary.

Rupturing the eardrum can cause even more serious consequences than not being able to hear for a few months. The eardrum normally seals the middle ear off from the ear canal. The middle ear contains the smallest bones in the body, and these are important for hearing. Serious infections of this space can damage the structures of the ear and lead to permanent hearing loss. While the eardrum is healing, you have to take very careful precautions to ensure that nothing dangerous gets inside of the ear canal and enters that space. For instance, it’s too dangerous to swim during this period, because any microorganisms in the water could establish a serious infection inside of your ear.

Protect your ears – audiologist Chico CA

Although many people have a daily habit of using cotton swabs to clean their ears, this is an unhealthy and potentially dangerous habit. Removing earwax from your ears makes them less healthy and more prone to infection. The earwax can become compressed into the ear, where it can interfere with hearing. The cotton swab can very easily rupture the eardrum and lead to damage, which may include permanent hearing loss. Putting cotton swabs inside of your ear is just not worth it!

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