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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

You have more than likely never noticed, but on the backside of any package of cotton swabs there’s a warning that is some version of this:

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could result in injury.”

If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go check it out for yourself.

The truth is, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing professionals who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the manufacturers of cotton swabs feel it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a preferred technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the producers so insistent that you don’t use their product in this way?

We’re excited you asked: here are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.

1. Earwax is important

Earwax has several beneficial functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial properties to protect against infections, it works as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent dry, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs is actually dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pressing most of the earwax up against the eardrum. This can rupture the eardrum or can bring about an impaction that will bring about hearing loss.

3. Earwax removes itself

The ear is crafted to remove its own earwax. The normal movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will move the earwax to the external ear. All that’s called for from you is regular showering and cleaning the external ear with a cloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

Earwax has lubricating and antibacterial properties, so if you eliminate too much, you’ll have a dried out, itchy sensation and will be more susceptible to infections.

What to do instead

There are a variety of commercialized (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is considerably safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. But bear in mind, if you’re having issues with too much earwax or you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s always best to consult a hearing professional.

Hearing professionals are thoroughly educated in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any health issues you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. It’s always a wise course of action to rule out more severe problems, and if cleaning is all that’s required, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that it’s being done correctly.