The danger of Q-tips

The danger of Q-tips

It’s a wonderful feeling when you finally rid your ears of that nagging, unwanted wax. However, if you’re using a Q-tip to do the cleaning, there are more risks than you might realize.

Although you’re removing some wax when sticking a Q-tip in your ear, you’re also pushing some even further down the ear canal. Repeating this process can cause a wax buildup to the point where it can be difficult to hear or even cause damage your eardrum. There’s also the possibility of water getting trapped behind the wax buildup, which can cause pain and further damage to your hearing.

“I generally advise my patients to stay away from Q-tips, as they can cause more harm than good,” says Dr. Nadia Caballero, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “First, they push the ear wax further into the canal, making it more difficult to remove in the office. Second, if pushed too deep into the canal, the Q-tips can cause rupture of the eardrum and disrupt the ossicular chain – which are the three bones in the middle ear – and lead to hearing loss.”

Roughly 12 million Americans every year wind up at their doctor’s office for excessive or impacted ear wax, according to a study by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

What many people don’t know is that we need ear wax because it works as a defense mechanism against infectious microorganisms. It also helps prevent pain when drainage occurs. Removal of the wax out can lead to a higher chance of infection.

Truth be told, there’s really no need for you to clean your ears unless you’re experiencing pain or you have more wax buildup than normal. “Most people do not need any help cleaning their ears, as the skin in the canal has a self-cleaning mechanism that will push out the ear wax,” says Dr. Caballero. “However, people who are prone to making more ear wax, such as those with oily skin, can use mineral oil drops to soften the wax, or Debrox, which is a mixture of mineral oil and hydrogen peroxide.”

For those reasons, if you’re going to clean your ears with Q-tips, stick to the outer part, known as the pinna. Otherwise, it’s advised to keep Q-tips from going inside your ear to prevent damage.

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One Comment

  1. Joy C Vitiritti July 12, 2016 at 6:56 pm · Reply

    I am one of those patients with chronic ear wax build up, I did use Q-tips and over the years, I wasn’t realizing that I should have seen an ear, nose and throat doctor. I now have had pain and water in my ears for over a year, I have been diagnosed with hearing loss, I’m only 36 years old. I have to wear hearing aids. The sudden loss of my hearing really scared me and still does, I will continue to lose my hearing, I can’t get it back! To much damage done.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.