Ear Specialists Explain 6 Reasons to Stop Cleaning Ears With Cotton Buds

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People all around the world use cotton buds, or “Q-tips”, to clean their ears. Some do so to get rid of the wax, and many may even enjoy the sensation. You might believe that these soft, gentle products are perfect for this purpose; but what if I told you that they aren’t?

As a matter of fact, cotton buds can be very bad for the ears. Most packages of the items even specify that they’re not to be used for that purpose; still, many people go ahead and do so! Perhaps it’s because the warnings don’t seem that serious, or because they can’t imagine items so delicate being harmful.

Unfortunately, cotton swabs are fairly bad for your ears for many reasons. In some rare cases, it can even cause a severe reaction – such as a brain infection that, if left untreated, could turn life-threatening and result in fatalities. Yikes!

But why, exactly do cotton buds pose such a threat to your ears? Can you really get such serious health problems from them? How are you supposed to clean your ears instead? Don’t worry, we’ve got the answers!

Ear Specialists Claim Cleaning Ears With Cotton Buds Can Give You Brain Infection

A Mysterious Brain Infection 

A 31-year-old man was admitted to the emergency room of a hospital after experiencing a bad seizure. At first glance, it would appear an odd occurrence. The man was otherwise very healthy and had no pre-existing medical condition that would lead to a seizure.

Before he had been admitted to that hospital, the man had been dealing with some unusual symptoms. His left ear had been hurting for about two weeks, and a lot of discharge had been flowing out of that ear. He’d even started to lose his hearing abilities to some degree.

As the days went on, he also began to experience bad headaches, though only on the left part of his head. The migraines were so severe that they drove him to the point of vomiting multiple times. He was also starting to have memory troubles and beginning to forget other people’s names.

Doctors decided to conduct a brain scan to see if they could discover what was going on. To their horror, their discovered multiple abscesses present in his head, leading from the ear canal, up into the bones of his skull, and into the lining of his brain. Abscesses are, in layman’s terms, very serious types of infections.

Discovering The Cause Of The Brain Infection: Cotton Buds

In this man’s case, the infection was necrotizing otitis externa, which is a bacterial infection. Toxic chemicals caused by the infection may have led to the seizure, or it could have also been the swelling happening in the brain causing pressure that caused the attack. The temporary memory loss could also be explained through this means.

Doctors needed to take a closer look at his ear, so they began a surgical exploration. That’s when they discovered the culprit behind this whole ordeal – a small portion of a cotton bud or swab that had become stuck in his ear and remained there. While he has been cleaning his ears with a cotton bud, this tip had broken off and become stuck inside his left ear without him realizing it.

There’s no way to know for sure how long that cotton bud part was in there, but given its condition and the wax around it, it had likely been present for a significant amount of time. Luckily, doctors were able to remove the part safely and clean up his ears properly.

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What happened to the man? Well, he received the right medical treatment, and after ten weeks, he had recovered entirely with no symptoms remaining at all, so he can look forward to the future with positive thinking.

Other Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Cotton Buds To Clean Your Ears

Virtually all medical professionals will tell you that inserting cotton buds into your ears is not a positive move. It’s not just because of the very small risk of a brain infection, either. There are tons of other valid reasons that you shouldn’t do this. Here are some of them:

1.   Cotton Buds Push The Wax Further In

When you use cotton buds, you think you’re scooping dirt out – but all you’re really doing is pushing it back inside. Essentially, what you’re doing is forcing the wax deeper in and shoving it up against your eardrums.

This is pretty bad and can lead to the rupturing of your eardrum. It might even cause an impaction. These issues could all potentially point towards hearing loss.

2.   You May Hurt Yourself

Cotton buds may usually be quite soft, but that doesn’t mean they can’t harm you by accident. If you’re pushed while cleaning your ears or you happen to apply too much pressure, you can injure your eardrum.

In addition, the sticks of cotton buds are fine and sharp, so you may wind up accidentally scratching yourself, leaving you more prone to infections.

3.   You Could Dry Out Your Ear

Earwax isn’t all bad. It’s full of antibacterial qualities that help to keep it safe from infections. When you remove it in excess, it can actually lead to dryness and irritation, which can then make you more susceptible to ear infections.

4.   It’ll Cause The Wax To Be Harder To Get Rid Of

When you force all of your earwax back into your ear while using a cotton bud, you’re causing the wax to stick together. This means it is becoming compact, so it will be even harder to get rid of the wax. This wax can even impede your hearing by blocking up the eardrum.

5.   Earwax Has Lots Of Uses

Aside from providing antibacterial benefits, earwax does a lot more than just appearing gross, so don’t underestimate its positive qualities! It is an insect repellent so you don’t end up with bugs in your ears. It keeps your canal lubricated against itchiness, and it keeps you free from infection.


Believe it or not, your ears are capable of self-cleaning. Yes, that’s right! Whenever you move your jaw, wax is typically pushed outwards towards the outer ear. Just eating, yawning, and even talking will get this done. You can just practice positive thinking and know that your wax will flush itself out.

So, what do you have to do? Just shower well, and use a clean cloth to cleanse the outer ear area every now and then.

How To Clean Your Ears The Right Way

For the most part, ears are self-cleaning, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t want to give it a good clean every once in a while. But now that you know not to use cotton buds, what else can you do?

There’s a correct way to clean your ears in an easy and straightforward manner, and you don’t need a lot of materials – just things you probably already have at home. While it’s more time-consuming than cotton buds, it’s also safer, healthier, and more effective. Here’s how to clean your ears in the right way. You will need:

  • Clean water
  • Syringe-like object (a medical syringe, a bulb syringe, or a bottle with a small hole)
  • Bowl
  • Towel (or another bowl)
  • Alcohol
  • Household-strength hydrogen peroxide (optional)
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Step 1:

Get some clean water at a lukewarm temperature and place it in a bowl. Be sure that it is neither too cold nor too hot; extreme temperatures can cause a reaction from the auditory nerve that leads to temporary dizziness and loss of balance.

Step 2:

This step is optional, but, if you so desire, you can add a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide (household-strength) to the water in the bowl.

Step 3:

Set out another bowl, or a towel, underneath your face to catch discharge from your ear.

Step 4:

Take a syringe-like object of your choice. Your best options are medical syringes (without any needle of course) or a bulb syringe. Barring that, you can use a bottle with a tiny pinhole prick in the base, or any other similar item. Fill this object with the water that you have ready in your bowl.

Step 5:

Start with your right ear. Pull your right ear backwards and upwards with your right hand; don’t worry, you should be able to reach it.

Step 6:

Raise the syringe above your ear and squeeze it so that the water within it enters your ear canal. Try to do so with steady and constant pressure.

Step 7:

Wait for the wax to exit your ear. Once it does, you have completed your task. It should not take longer than 5 minutes.

Step 8:

Switch over to your left ear now and do the same process again.

Step 9:

Take some alcohol and place a few drops into your ear. This will help to dry the ear canal well. If you like, you can also add peroxide to this alcohol before using it.

Do note that if wax still has not come out of your ear after 5 minutes, you should stop for the time being. You should also stop if you begin to get dizzy, or if you start feeling any pain. You can always attempt the irrigation once more when a few hours have passed; by then, the initial water you used will have helped to soften any debris or wax for easier removal.

Final Thoughts On How Cleaning Ears With Cotton Buds Can Give You Brain Infection

Yes, cleaning your ears with a cotton bud feels good, and it’s very easy and simple – but it can also be harmful. Not only are you drying out your ear and making the buildup worse, but you’re also opening yourself up to the possibility of itchiness, hearing loss, and infections of all kinds.

If you really need help cleaning your ears the right way, you can always opt for special cleaning tools designed specifically for this purpose.

Do note that you can, of course, always speak to a doctor about getting your ears professionally cleaned if the need arises. If they feel very backed up and you really need wax removed, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist can help to perform some heavy-duty cleansing!



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