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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

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

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could result in 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 feel it’s a bad idea!

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

We’re glad you asked: the following are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is useful

Earwax has a couple of beneficial functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial properties to prevent infections, it works as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs force 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 lead to hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

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

4. Too much earwax removal causes dry skin

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

What you can 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 problems with too much earwax or you’re having difficulties hearing, it’s always best to consult a hearing professional.

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

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