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Are Cotton Swabs Okay? New Ear Care Guidelines Offer Answer

Dorathy Gass

For those who love cleaning out their ears with good old-fashioned cotton swabs, you may want to read on. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recently updated their guidelines around ear care and how to handle earwax prevention and treatment.

In a lot of ways, earwax (as gross as it may seem) is a good thing. Produced by our bodies, it is also referred to as cerumen, and helps lubricate, clean, and protect our ears from infection. While cerumen does have its health benefits, excess earwax can also cause itching, tinnitus, coughing, earaches, and partial hearing loss.

While some may think that the regular cleaning of ears can help prevent ear wax built up, turns out, the methods of doing so can actually cause increased issues. As the Chair of the guideline update group, Dr. Seth R. Schwartz, recently noted while people think they are preventing earwax build up with the use cotton swabs, ear candles, paper clips, or other unimaginable methods, the issue lies that these efforts to get rid of the earwax ends up causing more problems; as all they are doing is pushing the wax further down their ear canal. He goes on to state that anything that fits in a person’s ear can cause serious (temporary or permanent) damage to an ear or canal.

As such, the new guidelines, which were last updated in 2008, provide information on the dos and don’ts of wax build up and ear care. Some highlights are as follows:
Over cleaning of ears should be avoided, as this act will only irritate your ear canal, and may cause further earwax buildup, as well as potential ear infections.
Refrain from placing cotton swabs, toothpicks, hairpins or other small objects in an ear. This could lead to harmful repercussions in your ear canal, eardrum, or hearing bones.

Medical News Today reported that those who love their ear candling, there is some bad news. The updated guidelines recommend avoiding ear candles, as they can cause injury to a person’s ear canal and eardrum. There is also limited evidence that the cleaning method removes excess earwax to begin with.

It is highly recommended to go see a doctor if you feel ear fullness, ear pain, or are suffering from any hearing loss. Bleeding from the ear or ear drain may also be signs of an issue, and medical attention is highly advised.

The updated guidelines also encourage to ask your doctor or family physician for advice if you are unsure around safe methods to treat earwax buildup. They can provide ideas around safe treatments that can be done at home.

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