In the News: Put Down that Q-tip


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

"You have to stop the Q-tip when there's resistance!"
--Chandler to Joey on an episode of Friends.

I admit it. I'm a Q-tip user. But I know when to stop (before there's resistance)!

About 12 million American seek medical assistance for impacted earwax each year. Ear wax (officially called cerumen) can lead to hearing loss and pain if too much builds up.

Therefore, that morning post-shower ritual of (gently) swabbing one's ears with a Q-tip must be good for the ears, right? Wrong.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology has released ear-cleaning guidelines.

Simply put: Your mother was right. Don't put anything in your ear.

If you can't use a cotton swab, how are you supposed to clean your ears?

Wipe the outside of your ears but never put anything in your ear canal.

Place a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial drops in the ear. Hydrogen peroxide also works. (My mom did this to our ears when were were kids. She likes to brag that none of her four kids ever had an ear infection--though I'm pretty sure that cleaning our ears with peroxide had nothing to do with that!)

Still don't believe me? The Q-tips website doesn't recommend using them to clean your ears!

Are you an ear swabber? Will you stop now that you know it's bad for you? If so, what will you do with that box of 500 cotton swabs?

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  • 134
    LOVE Q-TIPS & always will! - 5/26/2013   5:01:27 AM
  • 133
    Never had a real problem with ear wax buildup. I do use q-tips to clean up the outer area though. I hate when it gets shiny and gross there. - 5/25/2013   1:59:34 PM
    I use Q-tips (brand name only, all others are crap) postshower. If I don't my ears break outwithin 2-3 days. I just use them to get the water out and I don't stand near the door( for safety). Not stopping. - 1/10/2012   1:01:36 AM
  • 131
    i always use qtips post shower, and i don't plan on stopping. never had any problems and my dr has neversaid otherwise to me. and don't have any ear problems. on days i don't swab that are all itchy and gross feeling. - 7/3/2011   6:43:23 PM
  • 130
    I use Q-Tip's, too !! I have found that the generic brands don't have that much cotton, so I only use the name brand. - 7/1/2011   10:16:22 AM
  • 129
    Oh, grow up. Bunch of ninnies. Every five years or so, there's hysteria about using qtips in our ears. The earliest, cutesy warning I recall was "Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear." While it is sound advice, I'll be damned if I'll stop now. That's not to say I haven't had occasions when I mindlessly twirled and, therefore, felt some pain. Re the warning on the qtip website, mentioned above, it comes as no surprise. As a former consumer-relations manager for a national food company, I'm aware that their concern is to avoid lawsuits.

    Something we really, really shouldn't do is use the same qtip in both ears. If there is infection in one, you'll surely transfer it to the other. - 6/30/2011   6:28:26 PM
    Love the q-tips for my ears. Despite having some cotton stuck in my ears, I still use them - 6/21/2011   4:52:58 PM
  • 127
    I usually recommend a dropper filled with 50% distilled vinegar and 50% clear rubbing alcohol for patients that insist they have to use something or kids that get frequent swimmers ear. The vinegar (acetic acid) makes the ear canal uninhabitable for bacteria, and the rubbing alcohol adsorbs the water. Peroxide works too, or a little bit of mineral oil if you have very dry cerumen. - 11/26/2010   10:44:35 PM
  • 126
    Okay, fellow itchy-earers! Get yourself some of the Polysporin ointment with the local anesthetic in it and roll a bit of that on your Q-tip. It is a mild antibiotic, the ointment is oil- based so it seems to help loosen ear wax and it calms the itchy nerve endings. It isn't so good to get water out with but I would be inclined to suggest you get the water out first and then using the above method. Part of the problem with dry Q-tip use is that it causes micro-furrows in the canal lining that can get infected. Using a Polysporin lubricated Q-tip with its mild antibiotic and you seem to avoid this issue. - 11/26/2010   1:35:55 AM
  • 125
    Q-tip user who temporary lost hearing in my left ear - because of impacted wax - it was painful. - 11/23/2010   10:37:38 PM
  • 124
    I admit that I have been guilty of using qtips in the past, but one slip and your eardrum is gone. I was very careful but one day I was using one, and someone came to the door and spoke my name, and I jumped ten feet. Needless to say, that qtip punctured my eardrum and I've had problems with it ever since. I have read they are supposed to grow back, but mine never did. I now have to wear a hearing aid in the other ear, but can't in the one that has a punctured ear drum, because I have a huge hole in it. I was careful, but not careful enough. There is always that one time when you may be startled and it goes in and punctures the eardrum. I have also read that by using a qtip you are just pushing the ear wax even deeper into the canal. It sounds logical to me, but still when my ear gets to feeling itchy, I get a qtip and gently probe ....I know that I shouldn't, but I do it anyway. - 11/23/2010   2:52:08 PM
  • 123
    have always used them, will always use them, like everything else always be careful.... - 4/29/2009   3:20:13 PM
  • 122
    Guilty! I have impacted my ear wax twice in my life so severely that I've had to get it flushed out by a doctor. But sometimes it's so itchy I want to scream and oil blocks the canal. I just try to probe gently. - 3/17/2009   8:33:45 PM
  • 121
    I am guilty as charged, I use Q Tips quite often, guess I'd better start using the mineral oil. I use the Q Tip because my ear itches so I twirl the Q Tip around for comfort. Sometimes I do go a little too deep. I do use peroxide from time to time but the fizz tickles and it makes me sort of dizzy afterwards. Well I am really going to try to stop it with the Q Tips. - 3/17/2009   7:00:44 AM
    I swab inside my ear every day. The feeling of water in my ear canal drives me absolutely insane. And I second the earlier comment on ear canal itches; what else would I do to get rid of them? - 3/16/2009   1:55:57 PM
  • 119
    I am always careful. - 3/14/2009   12:01:41 AM
  • 118
    I have used Q-tips in my ear canal my entire life and have never had an ear infection.

    What am I supposed to do if I get an itch inside my ear canal? Let it go until it drives insane? I don't think that's a good idea; I own guns. I'm just going to go ahead and continue to use them as I always have. - 3/13/2009   11:32:01 PM
    I do use q-tips everyday but never go into the canal - that way I get all the water out, before it goes in deep, because I have swimmers ear. But there really is something to the hydrogen peroxide thing and not having infections. I suffered ear infections ALL of my life until I was 30 years old and a dr told me to clean my ears with hydro peroxide twice a week, and I haven't had an ear infection since. - 3/13/2009   2:02:37 PM
  • 116
    Uuhhh... ok, so when Acme had the sale, 10 for $10 on Q-tips, guess what I did? Yeah, now I have a lifetime supple. :) So I have this thing about just TOSSING stuff, I don't do it. :(

    I'll continue to swab, I was born w/ an ear issue (75% deaf in my left ear) so I have to get the water out after a shower & swimming but have ALWAYS been careful to only swab around, more on the outside of my ear. Can you MORE clearly define 'IN your ear'? Is there a line that is considered IN & OUT?

    I've been cleaning my ears this way all my life, it's how my mom taught me & how the nose/ ear/ throat specialist taught her, MANY moons ago when I was a wee lad :)
    NOT at all to demean the article at all but I think I'm safe :) - 3/13/2009   11:06:07 AM
  • 115
    I've known since I was young that you shouldn't use them, but I still do on occasion. - 3/13/2009   9:10:15 AM
    I feel like I'm not too bright because I can't visualize it, but how do I get the peroxide into my ear? and back out again? - 2/28/2009   10:12:22 AM
  • 113
    Oh man...I go NUTS when I don't swab out after I shower! I also have slightly dry skin so my ears itch a lot; I *hate* it when I have to scratch my ears and I come out with earwax under my nails! I've never had any health problems stemming from that though (knock on wood)! - 1/9/2009   12:19:26 AM
    I use them at school for art projects. Q-tip painting.
    - 1/6/2009   6:51:13 PM
  • 111
    I have to swab!! - 1/4/2009   7:15:42 PM
    My son gets nasty wax build up in his ears so after numerous doctors visit, the doctor finally told me to use wax softening drops and to use a special spray bottle filled with warm water to clean his ears once a week. Using the spray bottle can be difficult for the average person since it uses a small tube that if inserted to far can cause damage, but if you are careful, it will clean your ears and maintain a healthy amount of wax in the ear. - 1/4/2009   1:56:50 PM
  • 109
    If I don't use q-tips to dry the water out of my ears then I get bad ear infections all the time. I usually don't put them right in the ear canal though. Just in the entry way. - 1/4/2009   1:33:59 PM
  • 108
    I was a constant Q-tip user until I started getting ear infections every year. I read an article in a magazine that said to quit using them. I stopped getting ear infections when I stopped swabbing. - 1/4/2009   12:18:22 PM
  • 107
    I use cotton-tipped swabs gently when my ears itch. Im always surprised how much gunky wax I get out. When I haven't used the swabs in a while, and see my doctor, she comments "looks like some wax build-up". OK - what are we supposed to do?? - 1/4/2009   11:56:53 AM
    I have always been very carefule with q-tips and prefer using ear candles (though some Docs don't recommend them either). I know people who shove the q-tip into their ears and I have caused myself minor pain on a few occasions. I am afraid of going in too deep, so the resistance thing I haven't come across. I try to use a napkin or get what I can with the towel after showering. - 11/21/2008   3:55:00 PM
    The hydrogen peroxide works great. Never had issues with ear infections in the children either. I didn't put the cotton swabs in their ears since they tend to mimic everything you do. I had enough issues with them putting things in their noses! - 11/21/2008   7:57:05 AM
  • 104
    Im addicted to q-tips, my ears itch or feel like they itch everyday. I don't clean them everyday with q-tips but I doubt I'll give up the habit. - 11/18/2008   10:13:05 PM
  • 103
    I went to Japan this past summer, and you'd be surprised to see what they use to clean out their ears, an ear pick. It's a slender wooden stick that is small enough to fit into the ear canal, and used to scrape out the wax.
    Some even have cute characters on them, such as Kitty Chan and the like.

    My host mother used it on her 5 year old son. I kept thinking, all it takes is one little squirm, and he's deaf. Strange, huh! - 11/10/2008   5:37:02 PM
    I am studying Communications Disorders and we had to take an audiology class for pre-req's. Audiology is the study of the anatomy and physiology of the ear. We learned early that you should not clean your ears with q-tips. You wouldn't believe the amount of people we see in clinic who use q-tips and something happened accidentally to puncture their ear drum and can no longer hear in that ear.. You should never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear. With that being said, I still use q-tips, but only once a week instead of everyday. I have punctured my ear drum from using q-tips but luckily no hearing loss. So just be careful if you do decide to use them. If possible at all, you should go to an ENT to have them either irrigate the cerumen, or mechanically vacuum the cerumen out. You can also by the irrigation kit at a local drug store, which would be better than a q-tip, but that is still dangerous. NEVER do the Candling method, it rarely works, even though it looks like a lot of cerumen is coming out. Candling can also be very dangerous and may cause burns inside the ear or on your ear drum. - 11/10/2008   12:04:06 PM
  • 101
    Ok, so lets see....
    No plastic water bottles, only PBA free ones
    No jogging on roads because the exhuast from passing vehicles causes lung cancer
    No this, no that...
    Now NO Q-Tips!!!
    For crying out loud.......... I can't keep finding alternatives to things I have done FOREVER!!!! I mean if I have to choose a "non healthy" habbit to have I think I will stick with cleaning my ears.
    I'm starting to wonder if living and breathing is bad for us in some way or another. - 11/10/2008   11:39:50 AM
  • 100
    ooh, don't buy J & J stocks....I used 2 a day on my ears....720 a year.....invest in pork bellies! - 11/10/2008   12:33:06 AM
  • 99
    I am guilty of putting Q-tips in my ear canal...but I do it gently and I don't put it all the way in. After I take a shower, I have to get the water out of my ears. I've never had an ear infection. I also don't think I can put any liquid in my ears (such as baby oil or peroxide). I will continue to do the same thing I've been doing.
    Thanks for the article. - 11/9/2008   4:17:01 PM
  • 98
    I also use them for taking the water out of my ears after a shower...very interesting article thanks - 10/13/2008   10:14:26 PM
    I must admit I put Q-tips part way into my ear canals every day. I do this not so much to clean them but to absorb the water after a shower or take care of an annoying itch I sometimes get. I've been doing this for years and have had no problems. I'm careful to be gentle and not to stick the Q-tip too far into the canal.

    Still, I'll give the suggestions of drops in the ears; perhaps that will take care of the itch, but I think I'll still need the Q-tips to absorb the water, which I find uncomfortable, after a shower. - 10/9/2008   10:35:02 AM
  • 96
    50 years ago when I started having babies, our doctor said, "Don't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear". - 10/7/2008   4:48:12 PM
  • 95
    Oh gosh, I will have a fit if I can't clean my ears with a Q-tip after I shower. It is a bad habit that I fear that I won't ever break. I always make sure to not go down in the canal.

    Caution: Make sure you are careful. My relative was cleaning her ears with bathroom door closed and her husband came in. When he opened the door, it hit her arm which caused the q-tip to get lodged down in her ear. She had to get surgery but thankfully her hearing was affected. I couldn't imagine how painful that was! - 9/18/2008   11:21:24 AM
    I wear hearing aids, so every morning I have to put something into my ears, despite the general advice. Furthermore, I clean my ears with q-tips every day because the waxy buildup will accumulate on the hearing aids & shorten their life. As you may or may not know they cost thousands of dollars & are generally not covered by insurance in the United States. So I use common sense - use a q-tip gently but don't push or shove or do anything that hurts. It bothers me that the medical profession has deemed us all too stupid to clean our own ears. I guess we should pay $100 to have them do it? - 9/17/2008   10:09:41 AM
  • 93
    i only swab when I absolutely can't stand it no more and if there's an inch. other than that, I hardly go inside the canal of my ear. My hearing is bad enough as is.
    - 9/17/2008   6:33:27 AM
  • 92
    Its important to note that only a drop or two of hydrogen peroxide is needed. - 9/16/2008   5:18:44 PM
    I heard that you were supposed to wet them and then use them. To me, they are more effective in getting the wax out of my ear. - 9/16/2008   4:49:04 PM
  • 90
    Good advice. I have seen a new product that you insert into your ear canal and squirts backward (outward). I bet that would be a safe one, I want to try it as my ears give me fits every winter! - 9/16/2008   4:04:44 PM
  • 89
    I don't get why this is just now coming out as big news. Was there some kind of research done that proves this?? I can't stand not to use q-tips!! Maybe my ears overproduce cerumen or something but I don't know what I would do without them. - 9/16/2008   2:23:56 PM
  • 88
    I am a Q-tip user. I HAVE to use them after every shower. I have been using them for years and never have had an issue with my ears. I doubt I could give them up! - 9/16/2008   1:19:05 PM
  • 87
    Yes, I use Q-tips. Sigh. It's like finally scratching a hard to reach itch. I know I could impact the wax, but it's just such a hard habit to break. I've tried to be a bit better about it. Anyway, as far as extra Q-tips, I have a baby on the way and I'm sure I can find a ton of baby care uses for Q-tips. By the way, I read the article from the AAO and they say not to use ear candles. - 9/15/2008   7:48:33 PM
  • 86
    There's a funny thing about that "icky wet feeling" after bathing. If you let it dry on its own, it does go away. I've never been much of a swabber. The box of Qtips in my house is primarily for manicures, pedicures, and arts and crafts. - 9/15/2008   3:52:02 PM
  • 85
    Great--another bad habit to break. This one will be tough as nothing feels better than a good ole Q-tip after a shower. Wow, this is not good news. - 9/15/2008   10:54:06 AM

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