A sampling of US emergency department records confirmed that cotton swabs have caused many cases of eardrum perforation.
About 66 percent of patients treated for eardrum perforations had hurt themselves by sticking “instruments” in their ears and nearly half of these cases involved cotton swabs.
Dr. Eric Carnoil, an otolaryngologist at the University of Toronto, told Reuters: “In our experience, cotton tip applicators, and similar products are frequently the instrument that patients will use to clean their ears. We think that the majority of these injuries were caused by patients trying to get their own ear wax out.”
Carnoil noted that otolaryngologists (Ear, Nose and Throat doctors) see many patients in the office with tympanic membrane perforations that are most often caused by ear infections or trauma, pointing out that a current study focused on the traumatic causes of eardrum perforations.
Besides cotton swabs, other objects included hairpins, toys, combs, pencils, straws, toothpicks and lollipop sticks.
Still, he said: “If you want to take away one thing from this interview, it is please, do not use cotton swabs to clean your ears.”
Carnoil added many patients come into his office asking how they should clean the wax from their ears.
“Earwax is made in the outer 1/3 of the ear canal, and it is water-soluble. Therefore, most people can get away with just using a washcloth to wipe the wax away from the ear. Using swabs or other things in the ear canal is also the leading cause of ear canal infections as it scratches the ear canal skin and allows bacteria to enter the skin,” he noted.