For most of us, myself included, cleaning our ears after a shower is a regular occurrence, and based on the results it usually yields seems rightfully so. We all love the feeling of getting “crap” out of our body, especially when it comes out in such an odd and sticky yellowish-orange substance.
However, research suggests that not only is having earwax (cerumen) in our ears healthy for our body, but removing it with a cotton swab could in fact be dangerous.
What Exactly Is Cerumen?
Cerumen is the yellowish-orange waxy substance that we more commonly refer to as earwax. It originates near the eardrum and is created to protect the skin of the human ear canal. Despite its odd appearance, cerumen is a healthy feature of our ears that is naturally antibacterial and helps to provide protection against water, bacteria, fungus, and insects.
Without being interrupted by potential cleaning devices such as a cotton swab or q-tip, cerumen naturally and slowly pushes its way out of the ear canal by becoming dry and falling out. The use of a q-tip to clean an ear can often be counterproductive to this process, as it not only prematurely removes beneficial cerumen but also pushes cerumen back into areas of the ear that it no longer belongs.
The Q-Tip Warning
It’s odd that q-tips/ cotton swabs have become so commonly used to clean the inside of our ears, especially considering that on the package itself it states:
WARNING: Do not insert swab into ear canal. Entering the ear canal could cause injury. If used to clean ears, stroke swab gently around outer surface of the ear only.
Of course I assume that a warning of this nature is primarily driven by a desire to avoid liability of any form, but given the potential danger inherent in cleaning our ears it’s also worth real consideration. Q-tips are in fact primarily created as a beauty tool and not an earwax removal device, designed to help blend and remove certain makeups, as well as to touch up or remove nail polish. As the package states, if used to clean the ear it should only be done outside of the canal, where the drier and almost ready to be removed cerumen tends to reside.
The Potential Dangers
The biggest potential danger associated with cleaning your ears with a cotton swab is that you can accidentally puncture your eardrum. Puncturing your eardrum is not only painful, but also often requires surgery in order to be repaired and can at times damage your hearing permanently.
Removing the cerumen from your ear also makes you more susceptible to ear infections, including swimmer’s ear, which cerumen’s natural waterproofing nature helps to protect against. Cerumen is naturally acidic and operates as a natural antibiotic in your ear, so why remove it?
Despite the dangers associated with cleaning your ears, it is important to never overlook any potential ear issues. Always consult a trusted health care professional if you ever experience any issues and have them resolved as quickly as possible.