July 5, 2016

Do you love the feeling of freshly Q-tipped ears? Here’s why you should read the warning on the box and heed our safety advice.


Think about your process in the morning. Snooze the alarm, roll out of bed, jump in the shower, dry off, brush your teeth … clean your ears? If you’re one of the many people who enjoy cleaning out your ears with a Q-tip every day, then you should think twice.

You might have read the warning on the box that says Q-tips are not to be used in the ear canal, but for some reason we ignore it. So just how bad is it to use a Q-tip? We asked Lorina Poe M.S.P.H., M.D., with Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinics to answer some questions about Q-tip safety.


Is it ever safe to use a Q-tip to clean the inside of your ear canal?

Wax production occurs near the ear opening. Using Q-tips forces the wax further down the canal just beyond where you can see. Your body then produces more wax at the opening. Repeating this process leads to what is called cerumen impaction. The ear canal is now full of wax leading to pain and a decrease in hearing. Putting water in your ear at this point leads to water being trapped behind the wax and symptoms get worse. Dangers of using Q-tips include damage to your eardrum, which can cause permanent hearing loss or the need for surgery.


What options do people have for cleaning their ears?

Cleaning your ears is not necessary unless doctors need to examine your ear or you have an impaction as described above that is causing pain or other problems. The majority of the time using a soapy washcloth can remove the wax that is visible from the outside.


Do you see many patients experience issues after cleaning their ears out with Q-tips and/or other objects? What issues have you seen arise?

In my practice, it is common to have patients that actually over-clean their ears using peroxide, bleach and other harsh chemicals. When they do this, they remove all of the wax and can damage the skin inside the ear. They also use sharp objects that scrape the sensitive skin in the canal and can perforate the ear drum.

Wax is actually formed as a defense mechanism to protect the ear from microorganisms. Without that protection infections can arise and pain will be present with drainage from the ear canal.


How can Q-tips be used safely for care?

I recommend Q-tips be used to clean the pinna of the ear, which is the outside ‘nooks and crannies.’


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