Ear & Balance
What Happens When You ‘Clean’ Your Ear with a Cotton Swab
January 16, 2020
Many Singaporeans simply love the feeling of digging into their ears – it’s the ultimate shiok! Some people don’t like the feeling of wax in their ears. So, they relentlessly dig into their ears using cotton swabs to remove excess wax and debris. For others, getting a cotton swab and digging into the ears has become a habit.
However, many medical experts agree that it does more harm to your ears than good. Ear wax actually helps to protect and lubricate your ears, keeping it from being dry and itchy.
There are various negative consequences that can happen as a result of ear cleaning using a cotton swab.
You push wax deeper into the ear canal
You have a self-sufficient, natural cleaning system in the ear canal that helps to sweep old earwax out of the opening of your ear as you talk or chew. This means the ear canal does not need to be cleaned.
So, what happens when you insert a cotton swab to ‘clean’ inside the ear canal? Because the cotton swab is actually too big for the ear canal, it will only push the ear wax as well as debris deeper against the eardrum. This causes blockage and it will be harder for the self-cleansing mechanism of the ear to remove it. You may experience ear discomfort, tinnitus, decreasing hearing level in the affected ear and a secondary ear infection. Get your ear examined by a doctor or an ENT Specialist who can perform safe removal of ear wax under the guidance of a microscope.
You risk bleeding of the ear
As you insert cotton swabs into your ear canal, you’ll be probing through the curves of the ears to find the right spot to clean or stimulate pleasure from the itch. When you do this, there is a chance that you may damage the very thin skin of your ear canal, resulting in pain, bleeding and even infections.
The eardrum is a delicate structure that separates the outer ear from the middle ear (tympanic) cavity. It is paper-thin and can be can be easily ruptured from ear digging. Rupturing the eardrum is painful and can result in hearing loss and ear infections. It usually takes several weeks to months for the eardrum to heal without treatment but if the ruptured eardrum is persistent, you should consult an ENT Specialist for surgical repair.
You risk infections
Earwax serves as a protective barrier and helps to prevent outer ear infections. It keeps dirt, dust and debris away from the eardrum, and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. There are also good bacteria in the earwax, to keep the ear canal healthy. As you push your cotton swab into your ear, there is a small likelihood of a piece of the cotton swab or its fibers getting lodged and stuck inside. An impacted earwax or dislodged cotton bud from ear digging can cause ear infections.
Instead of using a cotton swab, gently clean the outside of your ears using a washcloth. If there is an excessive amount of wax produced by the ear or heavy earwax build-up, see your doctor to get it removed safely. Similarly, if you’ve been experiencing symptoms such as bloody drainage, hearing loss, or ear pain, visit an ENT Specialist for early treatment.
Medically reviewed by Dr Gan Eng Cern