Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

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

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

If you have a package of cotton swabs, go take a look for yourself.

The truth is, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs believe it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a preferred method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their own product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is useful

Earwax has quite a few beneficial functions apart from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes 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 prevents dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs force earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be 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 develop into an impaction that will result in 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 push the earwax to the outer ear. All that’s required from you is normal showering and cleaning the outer ear with a cloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

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 you can do instead

There are a variety of commercialized (and homemade) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with excessive earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s usually best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

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

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