We have heard the same warning since the time we were little children. You should never put anything in your ears, including cotton swabs.
That’s right, we’re talking about the small sticks with the cotton attached to the ends. We all realize they are perfectly designed for fitting in the ear but they don’t do a very good job of clearing the ear of wax. You might be misled because there is likely a glob of earwax stuck to the cotton and after pulling it out of your ear canal but in reality, you are probably just pushing the earwax further in and compounding the problem.
That being said, most people still buy cotton swabs to stick in the ear and clean out the earwax. It doesn’t matter how often they are told not to do so (by their parents or otherwise), they still do it.
That includes a 31-year-old British man who was given a diagnosis of necrotizing otitis externa in the lining of his skull. It was a bacterial infection that occurred because he continued to stick Q-tips in his ears.
When the doctors took a closer look at his situation, they found that a small shred of cotton was lodged in his ear and eventually, it became infected. The infection then migrated to his skull and spread to his brain lining. By that point, the problem had become serious and he was rushed to the hospital.
Perhaps the worst part of the situation is not the fact that he had the infection, it’s the fact that he suffered from the symptoms for almost 5 years!
During those five years, he was treated for two severe ear infections. The doctors continued to miss the true problem, an infected piece of cotton that continued to remain lodged in his ear canal.
The headaches became so severe that he would vomit and he ended up with short-term memory loss as a result of the skull infection. He even lost his ability to remember people’s names.
After being given a CAT scan, it was found that he had two large abscesses in his head at the bottom of his skull that were pus-filled.
The symptoms associated with necrotizing otitis externa are things that we could probably live our entire life without experiencing. The aroma of pus may be detected coming out of the ear canal and actual pus could ooze from the ears at times as well. Other symptoms could include itchy ears, hearing loss, and constant headaches.
Thankfully, the man was able to overcome the ear infection and make a full recovery. Surgery was necessary to remove the small piece of cotton from his head. He also needed some heavy duty antibiotics but in the end, he was as good as new.
So what do you do if you aren’t going to use cotton buds to clean your ears? First of all, stop using them and then try the recommended course of action.
You can use a Q-tip to clean the area around the ear canal but you should never stick it into the ear canal. Cleaning the inside of the ears is not a good idea because you typically end up complicating matters.
So what do you do if there is a wax buildup?
You can head down to your local drugstore and buy an over-the-counter wax removal kit. You can also try a natural solution, such as putting baby oil, glycerin oil or mineral oil in your ears to help soften the wax that may have built up over time. At that point, it should naturally fall from the ears on its own.
You may also want to try washing the area around your ear canal with a warm paper towel from time to time.
Avoid any ear candles and hydrogen peroxide solutions. They don’t work very well, if they work at all.
One other option is to talk to your doctor who can actually look in the ear canal and check to make sure there aren’t any problems. They can then remove any built-up earwax without you having to worry about developing an infection that would haunt you for years.