Cleaning ears with cotton buds bad for you

It may be satisfying getting a cotton wool bud to clear your ears of gunk, but cleaning away earwax could damage your hearing, according to a new study.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 9th January 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 1:01 pm
Cleaning ears with cotton buds bad for you
Cleaning ears with cotton buds bad for you

Many people think earwax is a sign of uncleanliness but using buds, hairpins, car keys, toothpick and other implements to have a rummage could make the problem worse.

Now researchers say the Old Wives Tale that the biggest thing you should stick in your ear is your elbow is correct.

Otherwise there is a risk you may cut the ear canal, make a hole in the eardrum, or dislocate delicate hearing bones, leading to hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing.

And excessive cleaning may also irritate the ear canal, cause infection and can cause even more wax, or cerumen, to be produced.

It even increase the chances of earwax impaction, which blocks the ear canal, and can lead to pain, itching, feeling of fullness, ringing or tinnitus, hearing loss or a discharge or an unpleasant odour from the ear.

But medical experts said the ear cleanses itself naturally and people should refrain from trying to tackle a perceived build-up in wax.

Dr Seth Schwartz said “Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears.

“The problem is that this effort to eliminate earwax is only creating further issues because the earwax is just getting pushed down and impacted further into the ear canal.

“Anything that fits in the ear could cause serious harm to the ear drum and canal with the potential for temporary or even permanent damage.”

Dr Schwartz was chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation which updated guidelines on the dos and don’ts of ear health.

He said: “This update is significant because it not only provides best practices for clinicians in managing cerumen impaction, it is a strong reminder to patients that ear health starts with them, and there are many things they should do as well as many things that they should stop doing immediately to prevent damage to their ears.

“There is an inclination for people to want to clean their ears because they believe earwax is an indication of uncleanliness.

“This misinformation leads to unsafe ear health habits.”

He added earwax or cerumen was a normal substance the body produces to clean, protect, and ‘oil’ ears.

It acts as a self-cleaning agent to keep ears healthy by trapping dirt, dust, and other small matter to the sticky earwax which keeps them from getting farther into the ear.

Chewing, jaw motion, and growing skin in the ear canal help to move old earwax from inside the ears to the ear opening where it then flakes off or is washed off during bathing.

And this normal process of making wax and pushing the old wax out is continual.

Yet at times this cleaning process breaks down and there may be a build up of wax which can collect and block, or partly block, the ear canal.

Excessive or impacted cerumen affects one in 10 children, one in 20 adults, and more than one-third of geriatrics.

In the updated guidelines doctors urge patients not to overclean their ears, put anything smaller than their elbow in their ear or use ear candles as there was no evidence they remove impacted cerumen, and it could cause serious damage to the ear canal and eardrum.

Instead sufferers should see their GP if they have symptoms who may advise on waiting to see if the ear cleans itself naturally, carry out irrigation or ear syringing or advise wax softening agents known as cerumenolytics .

The latter include prescription or over the counter cerumenolytic agents, Sodium Bicarbonate ear drops BP, olive oil, distilled water, and acetone that soften or break up the wax to help in removal with special instruments or a suction device

The updated guidelines were published in Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.