Stop using cotton buds to clean your ears – doctor issues serious health warning

There are many daily practices that seem innocuous on the surface but can actually damage one’s health. One hidden health risk that many people are unaware of emerges when cleaning ears with cotton buds. As Dr Emeka, Brand Ambassador of AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics, explained to, “many of us use cotton buds in our inner ear when we feel earwax build up.”

If you’re experiencing discomfort from hard earwax, cotton buds can seem like an elegant solution.

“Symptoms of hard impacted earwax may be earache or a feeling that your ears are blocked ringing or buzzing in your ears (tinnitus) or even vertigo (dizziness), so understandably some people like to clean their ears every day and may use a cotton bud,” noted Dr Emeka.

However, Dr Emeka explained, this can actually push wax deeper and potentially cause injury to the eardrum or break off and even cause infection.

“If you have problems with hard earwax that doesn’t move by softening with oil and irrigating with water, then you should see a health professional.”

READ MORE: Ear wax and stress linked – the contents of your ear wax can show stress levels

What type of oil should you use?

“If it does not and blocks your ear, put two to three drops of medical grade olive or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days,” advises the NHS.

According to the health body, it is recommended you use a dropper while lying your head on one side for a few minutes to let the oil work its way through your ear canal(s).

“You may find it easier to do this first thing in the morning and then just before you go to sleep.”

It adds: “Over about two weeks, lumps of earwax should fall out of your ear, especially at night when you’re lying down.”

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How oil dislodges earwax

Harvard Health explains: “Oil-based products lubricate and soften the earwax.”

Studies haven’t shown one type to be better than the other.

“Sometimes the eardrops will work on their own. Other times, a few squirts of water with a bulb syringe are needed,” notes Harvard Health.

“No one with a damaged eardrum should use a bulb syringe. If water gets into the middle ear, a serious infection is possible.”

What causes a build up of earwax?

The Mayo Clinic explains: “The wax in your ears is secreted by glands in the skin that lines the outer half of your ear canals.

“The wax and tiny hairs in these passages trap dust and other foreign particles that could damage deeper structures, such as your eardrum.”

Other causes of ear problems

If you’re experiencing hearing loss, it can be caused by other conditions that require a more specialist solution.

According to Bupa, you may need to have surgery if your hearing loss is caused by certain conditions.

Conditions include:

  • Overgrown adenoids – these normally stop growing when you’re around five years old. But if they continue to grow, they can cause hearing loss by blocking the tube connecting your middle ear to the back of your mouth. See our topic on adenoid and tonsil removal for more information.
  • A growth in your external ear canal can block your ear canal and cause hearing loss.
  • An acoustic neuroma can grow on the nerve that sends messages about hearing and balance to your brain and can cause hearing loss, dizziness or vertigo. You may need surgery to remove the neuroma.
  • A cholesteatoma is an abnormal growth of skin that can form in your middle ear. It is treated with surgery to remove it.
  • Otosclerosis (also called otospongiosis) is when extra bone grows on one of the three small bones (ossicles) in your middle ear. This stops your ossicles being able to amplify and conduct sound to your inner ear.
  • Perilymph fistula is an abnormal opening between your inner and middle ear. Fluid leaks into your middle ear and causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo. If this doesn’t get better with bed rest, you may need surgery.

“Depending on the cause of your deafness, your doctor may suggest you have a cochlear implant,” explains Bupa.

This device turns sounds into electrical signals and uses them to directly stimulate your auditory nerve, allowing you to hear.

“It will take time and help from a therapist to get used to using a cochlear implant,” adds Bupa.

What else could be causing hearing loss?

Studies suggest that hearing loss causes brain changes that raise the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease


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