Using ear swabs or Q-tips to clean the ears can be a dangerous practice, doctors warn. The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation published new guidelines on January 3, which include recommendations on personal ear care and provide information on possible dangers of using these swabs.
The group, a professional medical organization, said in a press statement,
Earwax or cerumen is a normal substance that the body produces to clean, protect, and ‘oil’ ears. It acts as a self-cleaning agent to keep ears healthy. Dirt, dust, and other small matter stick to the earwax which keeps them from getting farther into the ear.
While the human body is generally able to eject old earwax through normal, daily activities, some people have a build-up of this substance. This can block the ear canal, reducing hearing abilities, as well as other symptoms, AOL.com reports.
This kind of blockage is fairly common, and the experts added that “excessive or impacted cerumen is present in 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and more than one-third of the geriatric and developmentally delayed populations.”
Should earwax be a problem, the doctors advise people to consult healthcare providers. They also advise against cleaning the ears with other small items, such as bobby pins or toothpicks, according to Yahoo News.
Dr. Seth Schwartz, chairperson of the committee that drafted the guidelines, said, “Patients may try to blindly instrument their ears with cotton ear buds, bobby pins, or other tools. These are generally ineffective and potentially dangerous.”
Schwartz explained, “Scratching of the ear canal skin can lead to pain and infection. Sometimes they just push the wax in further, and there also is the potential for damage to the ear drum.” Using Q-tips can further push earwax deeper into the ear canal, compacting the substance further and making it harder to remove.
Typically, earwax found near the outer part of the ear can be cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth. In addition, items like hearing aids and earbuds can sometimes push earwax deeper in.
The guidelines state that medical experts are still the best people to evaluate such problems, so people should seek help first before attempting to clean their ears on their own.