Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You’ve most likely never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs there’s a written warning that is some variation of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Entering the ear canal could cause injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go check it out for yourself.

You see, it’s not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a prevalent technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this manner?

We’re happy you asked: here are four good reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has quite a few useful functions besides being gross. It has antibacterial characteristics to protect against infections, it operates as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually dangerous. When you force any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re moving most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can bring on an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is designed to eliminate its own earwax. The natural movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the external ear. All that’s called for on your part is normal showering and cleaning the outer ear with a cloth.

4. Excessive earwax removal causes dry skin

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll experience a dried out, itchy sensation and will be more prone to infections.

What to do instead

There are a variety of commercial (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with surplus earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s usually best to consult with a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are extensively trained in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a good idea to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done properly.

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