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Stop Sticking Q‑Tips in Your Ears, You Sadists

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Mar 13, 2019

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It’s time we, as a society, stopped using cotton swabs, and started loving our earwax. 

Clinically referred to as “cerumen,” earwax “serves a protective function for the ear,” according tothe American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Any excess earwax automatically comes out of the ear canal due to the motion of the jaw, such as chewing, making it completely unnecessary for you to go seeking out eargasms with a Q-tip.

Cotton-tipped swabs are considered “inappropriate and harmful interventions” by doctors, as of 2008. Doctors advise anyone who experiences hearing problems due to wax accumulation to go to an ENT clinic every six to 12 months; they strongly do not advise inserting any cotton-tipped objects in the ear, according to the guidelines.

On the product description for Q-tips on Amazon.in, the manufacturer lists out the product’s uses: “Q-tips Cotton Swabs are ideal for a multitude of applications, from putting on makeup, to caring for babies and pets, to cleaning electronics, to crafting art projects.” Notice anything missing from that list of appropriate uses?

On some packets, the manufacturer even lists a warning: “Do not insert swab into ear canal,” advising use for only gentle swabbing on the outer surface area of the ear. 

The main danger to your ear is that you, in your eargasm frenzy, cannot see what you are doing and can cause significant harm to your eardrum. For those about to preach the importance of correct technique: Using cotton swabs “can not only irritate, scratch and cut the ear canal, but you can also damage the eardrum, and render your efforts unsuccessful by pushing whatever wax has built up even deeper down the ear,” according to Dr David Stutz, a clinical assistant professor at Michigan Medicine, who was also a part of the committee that published the 2008 ear cleaning guidelines.

It is healthy to have earwax, which is lubricating and has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, Maura Cosetti, an otolaryngologist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Hospital, told New York Magazine. Residual wax, the buildup of which has the potential to impair hearing, will eventually come out itself, along with dirt and dust particles. This is when you can use your beloved cotton swab to gently wipe it away, instead of having to go hunting for it in the deep, dark crevices of your precious ears.

Effective ways to clean your ears include a soft washcloth, which you can swab along your outer ear, Eric Smouha of ENT and Allergy Associates told New York Magazine. Ear drops, or homemade concoctions such as apple-cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide with water are good options too, Cosetti says in the same article. Just one last time to drive the point home: in no respectable ear-cleaning how-to guides, do experts suggest sticking pointy objects into your ear.

How then, did cotton swabs become such an uncontested household staple? According to The Washington Post, cotton swab brands didn’t put the warning on packets until the 1970s, and even then, it wasn’t universal practice. The padded sticks were first invented for baby care, and eventually as a beauty product for makeup removal. 

For those still not convinced: It’s all in your head. Using cotton swabs causes inflammation, which “feels a lot like the blockage that incited the ear prodding in the first place. The more you prod, the worse the itch becomes, and the more you scratch. The cycle continues until medical attention is needed,” Jennifer Derebery, an inner-ear specialist in Los Angeles, tells The Atlantic.

It’s a flat out addiction. Now, it’s up to you to figure out if you’re the kind of person to face scientific facts, or fuel your own sadism. 

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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