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People clean their ears with cotton swabs (or Q Tips) with the aim to rid the ear of earwax. This is because earwax is considered to be unwanted, or harmful. However, while excess or obstructive earwax can be problematic, most earwax is beneficial. It’s a protective coating for the sensitive skin of the ear which repels water. When you dig it out, you leave your ear open to invasion by bacteria.

But, if you still choose to go ahead and dig around in there, here are some tips to minimize the damage.

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  • Rotate the swab against one side of the ear canal while inserting.
  • Do not go too far.
  • Wipe the Q-Tip against your ear canal in a rotary fashion while withdrawing the Q-Tip.
  • Next, clean the outside (pinnae) of the ears.


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Incidents range from the strange to the downright dangerous. A boy who had been partially deaf for nine years was suddenly cured when a Q-tip cotton wool bud popped out of his ear.

Aside from partial deafness, Q tips often cause ruptured eardrums. It easy to rupture the ear drum, and this can eardrumsometimes can be fatal, as this coroner claims.

Furthermore, along with potentially rupturing the eardrum, the action is likely to push wax deeper into the ear canal rather than removing it — even if a little shows up on the cotton.

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  • Do not use cheap imitations. Cheaper versions do not hold together well and increase the chances of leaving residue in the ear. This is undesirable.
  • If you go too far, you will know it. Chances are you have not caused any damage, but if there is blood (or fluids), see the doctor immediately!
  • If you are not convinced of the safety of using cotton swabs, consider therapeutic irrigation of the inside of your ear with alcohol (lavage) instead.
  • Last note… Q-Tips are not recommended for use inside the ear canal by the manufacturer (or the cheap imitations). In fact, on the Unilever Q-Tips box, the label clearly states (italics mine) “…ultimate precision, making them the perfect tool for uses outside your ear.”



Of course, there will be instances when removal of earwax is unavoidable, because there is simply too much. Symptoms of too much earwax are:

  • Pain
  • Itching of the ear
  • Ringing of the ears (tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss.

In such cases, one way to remove the earwax is with irrigation; gently letting water wash out the excess wax. This is a method used by professionals/doctors.

People with hearing aids are advised to get checked regularly for ear wax buildup, and this aids in maintaining hearing aid function and lowers risk of damage to the hearing aid. Those who are high-risk for excess earwax are advised to get checked every 6- to 12 months for routine cleaning.

Remeber – it is not recommended to clena your ears with cotton swabs, but if you do: Be careful! You don’t want to hurt your eardrum!

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