From punctured eardrums to super impacted wax, there are many negatives reasons you shouldn’t be sticking cotton swabs in the ear, in the name of cleaning. Indeed, medical experts warn of consequences of sticking anything in the ear.
“You shouldn’t clean your ears with cotton swabs, as this could lead to hearing loss, damage, dizziness, ringing or other symptoms of ear injury or worst”, said an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Senior Consultant, Prof Asma Abdullah of the Canselor Tuanku Muhriz Hospital (HCTM) of the National University of Malaysia (UKM).
On why nothing should be stuck in the ear, as a means of getting it clean, Dr. Uzo Okechukwu, an ENT expert, said: “Just like the vagina, the ear canal is self cleaning. The ear canals has specialised cells that produce wax known as cerumen. Cerumen is made in the outer part of the ear canal and forms a thin film on the surface of the skin lining the canal. It also helps to shield the canal from damage by water, infection or trauma; it also traps particles such as dust and helps eliminate bacteria that could damage the canal or the delicate eardrum.”
Ear wax is composed of an oily fluid produced by glands in the ear that mixes with sloughed off skin, bits of hair and other debris. The consistency of earwax ranges from liquid to rock hard, depending on the amounts of each component and how long the wax has been in the canal. The higher the proportion of dead skin cells and hair and the longer the mixture has been in the ear canal, the harder the wax. Ear wax moves from inside the canal to the outer ear and then washes out, dries up or falls out. It doesn’t need any help from anybody, in the form of cleaning with a cotton swab.
Ear wax accumulates much faster for some people than others. This can lead to wax buildup that causes decreased ability to hear and in some instances pain. People generally don’t want to see a medical professional and resort to using cotton swabs to remove excess wax and thereby causing more harm than good.
Cleaning the ear isn’t necessary, although the outer ear, otherwise known as pinna, benefits from a good cleaning every now and then. This can be achieved with a little soap, water and a washcloth while in shower. During hair washing or showers, enough water enters the ear canal to loosen whatever wax that has accumulated. In addition, the skin in the ear canal naturally grows in an outward spinal pattern. As it sloughs off, ear wax goes with it. Most of the time, the wax will loosen and fall out on its own while you are asleep. The need for a cotton swab isn’t necessary as catastrophes await the user because of its harmful consequences.
Citing a number of things people use in place of cotton swabs, Dr. Uzo mentioned “cotton buds, hair pins, tweezers, pens and pencils, straws and paper clips, chicken feathers,” adding: “Nature has a job to do and people should allow nature do its job. Sticking objects into our ears in the name of cleaning is wrong. Our body produces ear wax that keeps our ears clean and protected from dirt, dust or anything that may enter into it. How do we expect the ears to protect us from these things when we keep trying to remove our protective cover?”
The cerumen, as stated earlier, protects the ears from particles that may try to move further into the ear canal. Dr Uzo said: “For some people, ear wax accumulates much faster than others. This can lead to wax build-up that causes decreased ability to hear and in some instances, pain. To avoid visiting professionals, people resort to using cotton swabs to removing excess wax in their ears. While this may seem like an excellent alternative to spending countless minutes waiting in a doctor’s office, using a cotton swab may do more harm than good.
“Aside from protecting the ears, sticking cotton swabs or any other object is quite dangerous and could cause hearing loss or out rightly damage the ear canal.
“It’s important to realise that nothing should be placed inside the ear to remove dirt and debris. This is dangerous and could cause hearing loss or a damaged ear canal. Because the eardrum is delicate, it can be easily ruptured if a cotton bud is accidentally pushed too deep. Sometimes during the cleaning of the ear canal, somebody comes and hit the ear. At this moment, the ear canal might experience trauma and it can also lead to the bleeding of the ear.”
Much of this won’t make sense until you begin to experience ear carnal trauma, and for those who have experienced this it is not really a pleasant experience. The pain is quite severe and the ear may also bleed and lead to hearing loss. While a ruptured eardrum will heal, it typically takes awhile and can even lead to permanent central ear drum perforation and later, might also give rise to conductive hearing loss.
The question is: Do we really need to clean out our ears? The outer ear or pinna that can be seen does need a good cleaning every now and then. This can be accomplished with a little soap and water while taking bath.
“However, for those that have heavy wax build-up, a trip to the doctor may be needed. Doctors can easily remove ear wax with a suction machine. The process is virtually painless and is very effective in removing impacted wax,” Uzo said.
Procedures such as ‘water irrigation’ or ‘ear syringing’ are not advisable as it can cause sudden increase in pressure in the ear canal. Sometimes if not properly done, this procedure can cause more harm. It can lead to inflammation of ear canal (otitis externa) and also ear-drum perforation.
The earwax is composed of layers of skin, fatty acids, cholesterol and alcohol, all designed to protect the inner ear from water and infections. It also helps prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi in the inner ear.
“But, if you’re experiencing discomfort from waxy or hardened buildup in your inner ear, a trip to the otolaryngologist, or ear specialists that can easily remove impacted ear wax using a method that is relatively quick and painless is advisable. Treatments such as microsuction or an aural toilet could be recommended. Microsuction is a quick and painless procedure where a small device is used to suck the earwax out of your ear,” an expert proposed.
She added that eardrops – drops used several times a day for a few days to soften the earwax – could also be used at home.