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Using cotton swabs: dangerous or not?

Using cotton swabs: dangerous or not?

It is very attractive to clean your ears with cotton swabs when they are dirty. However, it is often not recommended to do this. Why is this? dr. Hester van Monsjou, ENT doctor at Jan van Goyen Medical Center, tells more about this.  

Is the use of cotton swabs dangerous?

“Many people use cotton swabs to remove visible wax in the ears. What often happens, however, is that this actually pushes the earwax further into the ear canal. The result is an earwax plug in the ear canal, which reduces your hearing. In the worst case, you can even push through the eardrum with your cotton swab. So it can indeed be dangerous to use cotton swabs.”

What complaints do patients get who use cotton swabs incorrectly?

“At Jan van Goyen we see patients a few times a week who have complaints after using cotton swabs. This often involves itching or pain in the ear, a swollen/throbbing ear canal, sometimes a runny ear, impaired hearing or ringing in the ears.”

What can you do to help these patients get rid of their complaints?

“Of course this depends on the type of complaint. In most cases, we first clean the ear canal and then treat it with antibiotic or anti-inflammatory ear drops. Sometimes it is necessary to come back a few times to treat the ear canal with a tampon, ointment or drops, or to clean a few times. If people suffer a lot from earwax because of a narrow ear canal, we can perform a (minor) surgery to widen the ear canal.

What do you advise your patients when it comes to cleaning their ears?

“We always advise patients not to use cotton swabs. If patients like to do it anyway, we advise not to insert them too deeply, but only to clean the edges of the ear canal entrance. After showering or swimming, you can also choose to dab the ear canal with a tissue stretched over the little finger or blow dry. When patients suffer from excessive earwax, they can have it sprayed out at the GP, but if the ear does not respond well to it, cleaning at the ENT doctor is a pleasant, effective solution.”

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