Q-tips®: Can I put this in my ear?
“Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.”
Did your grandma ever tell you that? Mine didn’t either! I, like so many of the patients I see every day, was surprised to learn that Q-tips are not meant to be used for ear cleaning. The box actually says “Warning: Do not insert swab into ear canal” yet it is everyone’s favorite thing to put in their ears!
Did you know that your ears are designed to clean themselves?
Our bodies produce earwax as a cleaning agent. Wax is not dirty! We actually need earwax to catch dust, dirt, bacteria, and other debris before they get too deep in the ear canal. Earwax even helps to keep bugs out of our ears--it’s toxic! I have only found bugs in very clean ears! And yes, there are bugs in Colorado.
Earwax is produced by glands in the outer third of our ear canal that is made out of cartilage. When you chew and you talk, this portion of your ear canal moves and the earwax naturally works its way out of your ear. When you use qtips, you force the earwax into the bony portion of the ear canal. When you chew and you talk, this bony portion does not move and neither does your earwax. Qtipping can lead to excessive buildup of wax in this bony area of the ear canal which can lead to blockage, hearing loss, ear pain, abrasions, itchiness, and dizziness. Removal of excessive wax build up in this area is more difficult and uncomfortable to remove due to the bony portion of the ear canal being more sensitive than the cartilage portion of the ear canal.
“But my ears itch.”
I often hear this excuse from people who insist on continued qtip use. I even used it myself initially! The truth is, Qtips are the cause of the itchiness. Qtips remove the natural oils that lubricate our ear canals. It becomes a vicious cycle--you use a qtip which makes your ears itch so you itch it with a qtip and the cycle continues.
Lastly, Qtips can be downright dangerous. If inserted deep enough, qtips can puncture your eardrum. You may think you are being careful by not going in too deep but it only takes one slip or someone walking into the room and knocking your elbow to leave you with a hole in your eardrum. Is it really worth the risk?
Hopefully by now you agree, your ears are better off qtip free! Keeping a nice layer of wax in there ensures that our ears remain healthy, promotes better ear hygiene, lubricates the ear canals, and best of all keeps our ears bug free!