Should I use cotton buds to remove earwax?

Dec, 08, 2022

Ear Myths: Why you shouldn’t use cotton buds in ears

Cotton buds are a staple in many home bathrooms, but did you know these handy little cotton-topped sticks were never intended to be used in your ears? That’s right – cotton buds were not designed for earwax removal, yet they remain a regularly used item for dealing with earwax, leaving many people asking: are cotton buds bad for your ears?

Unfortunately, putting cotton buds in ears can be extremely harmful to your ear health and can lead to all sorts of issues, from blockages caused by impacted wax to painful infections and even hearing loss.

Of course, to know how to clear a blocked ear, it’s important to understand the cause, so read on to find out if your blocked ears may be down to ear damage from cotton buds – and how to clean your ears without cotton buds.

What happens when you use cotton buds in your ears?

Our ears naturally produce earwax (or ‘cerumen’, if you prefer to use the technical term). The substance plays a very important role in keeping our ears healthy and clean, helping prevent them from drying out, trapping dirt and preventing bacteria from getting deeper into your ear where it can cause infection.

Earwax typically comes out on its own – this part of our body is generally self-cleaning, so earwax removal is usually not necessary. Movements like chewing and talking help the wax to move towards the outer ear, where it is washed away when we bathe. But despite this, many people continue to use cotton buds for excess earwax removal, which can do more harm than good. 

Are cotton buds bad for your ears?

In a word, yes. So why shouldn't you use cotton buds in your ears exactly? Putting cotton buds or other foreign objects into your ears can push the earwax further, causing it to build up and become impacted, making it even harder to remove (and requiring professional medical intervention). Putting cotton buds – or in fact, any foreign object – into your ear can also damage your eardrum or canal and potentially cause infection or hearing loss.

Ear damage from cotton buds

  • Ruptured eardrum. Our eardrums are incredibly delicate, and as such, it’s very easy to damage and even rupture this fragile structure by putting cotton buds in the ear. A ruptured eardrum is incredibly painful, can take a long time to heal and may even lead to hearing loss.
  • Infection. While earwax naturally prevents bacteria from entering your ear canal, using a cotton bud can push bacteria further into the ear, leading to ear infections. Fibres from the cotton tip or, in fact, part or all of the tip itself may get stuck in the ear, leading to infection, discomfort and pain.

How to clean your ears without cotton buds

If you have signs of a build of earwax – for example, hearing problems, a feeling of the ear being ‘full’, earache and pain or itchiness, a ringing noise in your ear or dizziness – there are safe methods of earwax removal that won’t risk put your ear health at risk.

One way to clean your ears is using the irrigation method, which doesn’t require the use of chemicals or any fancy equipment, and is quite safe to use at home unless you have an underlying ear health issue. Using a syringe, squirt some lukewarm water or saline solution into your ear canal. This will help soften and loosen any ear wax, making it easier to remove. Tilt your ear to one side to drain the water or saline solution, then dry the outer ear using a clean cloth or towel. You may need to repeat the process more than once. If it isn’t working well, you may need to use ear wax softening drops (available at pharmacies). 

When to seek help

If the wax within your ears isn’t loosening using the irrigation method, or if you think you may have an underlying issue with your ear health, it’s important to speak to your doctor or audiologist. They can help you determine the best treatment options for your needs and can advise whether you’re a candidate for professional earwax removal. 

Our ears are self-cleaning, so there’s no need to see a doctor to have earwax removed under normal circumstances. After all, it plays a crucial role in the health of our ears. However, if earwax has built up or hardened or your ears feel blocked, find a Bay Audiology clinic near you and book a check-up and earwax removal consultation.

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