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Are Cotton Swabs Safe For Ears?

Earbuds are a household item all across India.

They’re seen as a quick fix to a pesky nuisance: earwax.

Cotton swabs are known to be one of the most harmless tools to use. You don’t need a prescription for them, they’re cheap and come in ample quantities. What’s not to like? However, are we asking ourselves the fundamental question: how safe are cotton swabs for ears actually? Is there any greater risk factor involved? Let’s find out.

Earwax: Good Or Bad?

Most of us think of earwax as icky and unsanitary. Here’s the catch, though: it only FEELS icky. On its own, earwax is harmless. Here are a few points for your consideration.

  • Earwax helps keep your ears clean. The wax traps dirt and harmful bacteria from entering and infecting your middle and inner ear.
  • It takes care of itself. Earwax buildup does not impair your hearing, for the most part. When it does build up, it comes within the outer ear region, where cleaning it is simple.
  • The process is self-sustaining. Your ear does not need help from you to clear out earwax. It is replenished periodically.

So as you can see, there is no need to stick a cotton swab in your ear at all. Despite this, recent studies show that a whopping 68% of people choose to clean with cotton swabs anyway. What’s the big fuss about, though? Even though they’re sterile, frequent ear bud usage can be detrimental to your ear health. Wonder how?

The Bad Swab

First up, let’s clear the air about a central misconception. One cotton swab, on its own, is not harmful to your ear at all (provided you do not irritate your ear with it.) It’s when bud usage becomes a habit that problems arise. Take a look for yourself.

  • By using a cotton swab, you may actually be forcing the earwax deeper into your ear. If it goes that far in, the earwax won’t be able to refresh, getting built up within the ear.
  • Since earwax traps dirt and pathogens in it, you are not doing it any favours by rubbing it into your ear. Ear infections occur when bacteria get into your middle/inner ear, and they are not fun to deal with for anyone. When earwax accumulates abnormally, it causes serious repercussions such as impaired hearing and occasional dizziness.

Excessive Force

  • Constantly ramming a cotton earbud deep into your ear places physical strain on your ear. The middle ear structures are highly intricate. Persistent physical force can lead to a broken eardrum, which manifests itself as symptoms of disorientation, fatigue and so on.
  • Then there’s the question of the cotton swab itself. Cotton is a fibrous material. Notice how earbuds have tiny cotton strands unraveling at the tip? Those can potentially get lodged in your ear if you push too hard. If a lump of cotton from the swab gets stuck in your ear, it can lead to complications such as fatigue, vomiting and gradual hearing loss.

Though unassuming, cotton swab usage comes with its fair share of ear problems. In fact, over 60% of hospital cases that are admitted for ear pain have cotton-swab related diagnosis reports. You can save yourself the whole hassle by going easy on your ear cleaning routine.

The Alternatives

We’ve already established that earwax is something that cleans up after itself. What if you’re a complete stickler for personal hygiene, though? Never fear, there are viable and safe alternatives for you.

  • Excess earwax is best dealt with by gentle methods, such as softening.
  • You can use products like glycerine or baby oil on your ear to soften up the earwax. This makes it easier to wash out.
  • After gently washing out your ears, use a dry cloth to dab the excess moisture off.


Cotton swabs may provide an easy solution to keeping your ears clean. However, you may be harming your ears more than you realize, in the long run. Put simply, it’s better to refrain from using cotton swabs as far as possible, to reduce the risk of ear ailments. As always, never hesitate to get professional medical help in case your ear pain symptoms get out of hand. Listen to your ears’ wellbeing!

If you can bless yourself with the gift of hearing, you should.

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