Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are q-tips safe?"
I use q-tips everyday to clean my ears. Is it dangerous to use them? Could they end up hurting my ears? 18 year old female.
This is a very good question, and one that we hear very frequently in the ENT (Ears Nose Throat physician) office. Q-tips can potentially be counterproductive, and even harmful at times to patients, and I'm sure that nearly every ENT has seen the results. First of all, Q-tips are frequently used to clean the wax out of the ear canals of people, which initially seems like a good idea, unless you understand the anatomy and physiology well. Only the outer one third, to one half of the ear canal makes cerumen (wax) which functions to moisturize the skin, and help prevent foreign bodies from entering deeper into the ear canal. The body also has hairs and the natural growth of canal skin is from the inside out, so it is normal for cerumen to (very slowly) "flow" out of the ear. When people use Q-tips they frequently clean out some of the wax, but also push some of it back deeper into the medial canal which cannot remove it well. It can get pushed up against the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and cause impactions that impair hearing, can lead to infection, and can be painful/difficult to remove. This is why ENT's with (half-heartedly) joke with patients saying don;t put anything bigger that your elbow in your ear. I have also seen Q-tip heads fall off in the canal and have to be removed in the office or emergency room. And of course there can be trauma to the ear drum itself from Q-tips. If you have problems with cerumen, or want your ears examined, I would suggest making an appointment with an ENT. I hope that this is helpful.
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