That Cotton Bud Can Leave You Deaf


Cotton bud has become an everyday use item in most Nigerian homes. Mostly, it is used for cleaning the ear canal. However, unknown to most users, their ear drums are open to health dangers whenever the bud is dipped into the ear.

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The use of cotton bud in the ear passage is associated with no medical benefits and results into health risks such as pains, hearing problems, ringing in the ear and dizziness, which may call for medical treatment. According to Wikipedia, the ear wax, also known by the medical term cerumen, is a yellowish waxy substance hidden in the ear passage of humans. It protects the skin of the human ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication and also provides some protection from bacteria, fungi, insects and water.

A 2004 study, “Cotton-tip Applicators as a Leading Cause of Otitis Externa”, found that the use of a cotton-tip applicator to clean the ear seems to be the leading cause of Otitis Externa (OE), an inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal, which can be said to be the essence of disorder. It can be caused by active bacterial or fungal infection. Sometimes, the ear canal swells and may become painful.

The use of cotton buds in the ear is often one of the causes of perforated eardrum, which could require surgery.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, among other professional medical associations, would not recommend cotton buds in the ear canal. Cotton bud users have been warned to visit their doctor rather than try to fix the problem themselves, says Dr Peter Roland, of the University of Texas. According to him, ignoring the warning and constant use may result in perforated eardrums, bleeding and temporary hearing loss.

Some experts have said that the injury may heal but would have damaged the tiny bones deep inside the ear, which may cause permanent deafness. The option of using olive oil for cleaning of the ear can soften the wax, but removing it should be left to a doctor.

A consultant Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, United Kingdom, Simon Baer, found in a research that “in most circumstances, wax is actually beneficial to the ear, however, it causes external bodies to adhere to it, preventing them from going further into the ear, and it has anti-bacterial properties. Removing it is like taking the wax off the surface of polished furniture. It makes the delicate important skin of the ear more vulnerable to infection.”

Although, some people produce large earwax, which can affect hearing, especially if the wax becomes soaked and expands – after swimming, for example, excessive ear wax is likely to run in families.

Baer advises that it is best treated by having the ears “syringed with warm water under medical supervision.” He also adds that removing wax with a bud can leave the skin of the ear feeling irritated.

Associate Editor for Healthy Hearing at Kettering, Ohio, Amanda Tonkin, who highlights a number of items people use to clean their eyes to include hair pins, pens, pencils, straws, toys and even paper clips, indicates that though these items are dangerous, it is equally dangerous to remove dirt with cotton bud.

Cleaning Tips

Experts say that in most cases, the ear canal does not need to be cleaned. During hair washing or showers, enough water enters into the ear canal to loosen the wax that has accumulated. Additionally, the skin in the ear canal naturally grows in an outward, spiral pattern. As it sloughs off, ear wax goes with it. Most of the time, the wax will loosen and fall out on its own while you are asleep. The need for a cotton swab is not therefore really necessary.

For those that have heavy wax build-up, a trip to the doctor may be needed. Doctors can easily remove ear wax with a little peroxide mixed with water and injected into the ear. The process is virtually painless and is very effective in removing impacted wax.