Why You Really, Truly Should Not Put Q-Tips Into Your Ears

Notice the warning. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Notice the warning. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Brilliant. Just brilliant. Do you think I may qualify for one of those Darwin awards? Here’s my sorry tale:

Many a morning, my ears are still wet from my shampoo when I insert my phone’s earpieces into them. One recent morning, a little light bulb lit up over my head: “Hey! I’ll lightly swab the water out with Q-tips to speed the drying process! Sure, there’s some advice I’m vaguely aware of that it’s really not healthy to insert Q-tips — or anything smaller than your elbow — into your ear, but just look at the little cotton domeheads on sticks! They’re so clearly engineered to enter an earhole, aren’t they?”

The swabbing felt good, and seemed to work. Just one small problem: Within days, I was experiencing occasional bouts of what I can only describe as indescribable weirdness. It was a sort of dislocating reality shift. A sudden sense that the world was off, and then righted itself again. Something like the feeling you get when you’re on a stationary train and don’t notice when it starts moving, then look out the window and see the landscape sliding by: a displacement, a minor sensory shock, a brief vertigo.

Dr. Jennifer Smullen (Courtesy of Mass. Eye and Ear)

With my few remaining brain cells, I made the wise decision to stop using the Q-tips, and the sensation abated a few days later. And in hopes that others may learn from my mistakes, I spoke today with Dr. Jennifer Smullen, an otologist and neurotologist (a specialist in surgery of the ear and nerves to the ear) at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. She was kind enough first to treat my sheepishness, and then to share wisdom that I hope spreads far and wide. Our conversation, lightly edited:

I am feeling very stupid at the moment…

Don’t feel stupid. This comes up over and over. I do not have a day that goes by that I do not address this issue.

Sigh. I’m feeling a little better. So why should I not have done what I did?

Number one, you would like to have some wax in your ears. The ear canal makes wax for a purpose. The wax in your ear waterproofs the ear canal and keeps water from going in and getting stuck, sort of like wax on your car. If you clean your ear with a Q-tip, that strips the wax and lets the water stay in.

So my trying to remove water with a Q-tip actually created a vicious cycle?

Exactly. So number one, you should leave the wax in your ears because it waterproofs them. It’s also a natural antibiotic. It’s naturally acidic and it prevents infection in your ear. So if you take away the wax, you’re more likely to get a swimmer’s ear infection. Third reason why you shouldn’t remove the wax with a Q-tip in particular is that at the end of the ear canal is the ear drum, and the ear drum is much closer to the outside than you might think. If you put a Q-tip in your ear so the entire cotton has gone in, you’re probably touching your ear drum. People always say they didn’t go in that far, and they always do.

And what’s the problem with reaching the ear drum?

The ear drum is very delicate, so you can puncture it with a Q-tip, and I’ve seen that many times. The other reason is that if you touch the ear drum you press on the little bones of hearing underneath — the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. They’re the tiniest bones in the body and they’re right under the eardrum, attached to it. And if you press on those, it sends shock waves into the inner ear, and the inner ear is responsible for hearing and balance. So if you tap on the eardrum, you’re sending shock waves into the inner ear and you can cause problems with your hearing and balance.

(Wikimedia Commons)

What’s a worst-case scenario?

If you put a Q-tip into your ear you could puncture your eardrum and that may require surgery to fix it. It can even make you lose your hearing in your ear forever. The more common thing that happens is that the Q-tip is exactly the size of your ear canal, so when you put it in your ear, you push the wax in deeper and it gets stuck, and then you have to have some help to get it out.

How about getting water out?

If you get water stuck in your ear, these are the best ways to take care of it: One is to take a hair dryer and blow it on a cool setting into your ear until the water evaporates. The other way is to put a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol in your ear. The alcohol will displace the water and then evaporate.

Brilliant! And what exactly was it, that weirdness that I felt? A form of vertigo?

I can tell you what that probably was, if what you felt was that when you turned your head or tipped it back, you felt a kind of “catch-up.” There are some small calcium crystals inside of the inner ear called otoliths. If you tap on your eardrum and that pushes on the little bones of hearing and sends a shock wave into the inner ear, the crystals can become dislodged, and every time you turn your head, you shift and you get that little ‘bu-bumbum.’ There’s a name for it: BPPV, for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. You probably caused it by a little trauma to your ear by using the Q-tips, and it usually goes away on its own. There are also certain amazing things we can do in the office; we put your head in certain positions and that makes it go away.

Good to know. Really, my only defense is that the form of the Q-tip just so seems to suggest putting it into your ear…

If you look at the box, it says not to put it in your ear. The best way to clean your ears is to take a tissue and drape it over your finger, and anywhere you can reach with your finger, it’s safe to go.

Readers, have you had any sort of experience like mine? And it’s true there are warnings on the box, but don’t you think they should be made bigger?

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  • Rose

    Hello all,
    I will NEVER use Q-tips again to clean my ears!! I have just spent 2 weeks clearing the damaged caused by this. Apparently I caused a tear in ears cannal that got infected. I swimm regularly and the water trapped caused bacteria to get into the tear which caused an abcess. Doctor visit $75; antibiotics $25; antibiotic drops &40 dollars…and terrible pain> Don’t do it…the ears will clean themselves

  • Roger Wauters

    When the hairdresser wash my hair and rince it and then lots of soap get in my ears i soooo want Q tips for emediate release of the itching. But now i do think about safety. About pushing the earwax down i wonder if it make a difference if you turn the Q tip while you puch it in the ear (not too far) and if the earcanal aint wider than the Q tip which may have an impact on it all?

  • John Kimaa

    I have been able to put half the qtip In my ear.. I have a bad habit of always doing this everyday.. I have done it and cleand my ears out with perioxide for more than ten years. I have never experienced any of those symptons. I have passed every hearing test and test while I was in the military. Is this normal? S

  • Luke

    I have been putting q-tips all the way in my ear canals for about 3 years. They feel amazing but I guess I should stop because I don’t want an ear infection haha

  • Jim NotReallyMyName

    I have used them in my ears since I was a kid because one time on the school bus I looked in some kids ear and there were big chunks of wax….I mean it looked like waxy icicles hanging in there. I figured I didn’t want the inside of my ear looking like that and I have used q-tips ever since and enjoyed the warm and fuzzies I get when using. I’m addicted. For the first time it has given me an ear infection….I have to kick the habit :-(

  • Ragdoll Mommy

    I’ve been using Q-tips for YEARS to clean out my ears; therefor you’re fine.

  • Mona

    I hear an alarm going off – doing the tissue thing (only with a washcloth) is what got one lady I know in trouble – it was in fact how she got her ears plugged up with wax. Maybe Q tips aren’t for everyone, but if I don’t clean my ears out on a near daily basis, I have a serious problem. My wax is soft and I get large amounts if I don’t keep up with it. Sure beats a bobby pin (which is what my mother used to use).

  • Martin B

    Put alcohol in? Really? You do know that alcohol in your ear is much more likely to give you vertigo than gently cleaning your ear with a q-tip.

  • blewvelvet

    I’ve been doing q-tips for 35 years. Never had one problem!!!

  • whybaby

    This makes me sad. Using a Q-tip can be so eargasmic.

  • Jeremy Jordan

    You can find anything you want on the internet telling you not to do something. If it feels good, then I say keep doing it. You can waste your whole life listening to people telling what not to do or you can live your life.

  • Fell X …

    I, for one, strongly believe that anything that our body naturally produces is there for a reason. I don’t mess with it. The human body has taken hundreds of thousands of years of primate evolution to reach this form, so whatever seemingly unpleasant characteristic is there, it was not eliminated because it serves a purpose. So, either if it’s ear wax, skin oils or hair oils, they are not accidents but adaptational features that were not bred out because they were necessary. These are not opportunists like dental plaque. They are friends, like intestinal flora. Mess with that if you want a sample of suffering. It’s easy to do, just take antibiotics.
    Speaking of which, another danger, just like Q tips.
    Antibiotics are for clinical use only. Medic’s privilege. Besides the fact that you severely damage your intestinal flora, you do something extremely dangerous if taking the wrong antibiotic by yourself. You give a chance to your disease to become antibiotic-resistant, to such extent that even the correct antibiotic might no longer have an effect on it. Basically, Russian roulette with your own health. So, instead of running to the pharmacy for an antibiotic “cause it’s good for infection”, run to your medical professional to have him prescribe something that actually works. Case in point: dental infections. Medics will tell you right off the bat that narrow spectrum antibiotics only make it worse. A dentist will prescribe a high dosage broad spectrum antibiotic to weaken any possible pathogen. Does that cure the infection ? No. What it does is eliminating the inflammation so he can work with his tools without spilling infectious puss all over your mouth. Do you know that smell, the dental office smell ? That comes from a very powerful antiseptic that the medic mixes in while working on your now exposed infected area. It is that one that actually finally kills the infection. So trust the specialist that has the knowledge and let Aunt Marjorie to worry only about your common cold.
    Cheers !

    • Martin B

      So you don’t use toilet paper or a toothbrush? I mean “our body naturally produces” what gets left on your butt and your teeth as well.

      • Cherokee Corn

        What’s get “left on” the butt is waste. If our body needed it, it wouldn’t be trying to push it out and I don’t know what your trying to say about the teeth.

  • Wiz Khalifa

    Cop blacc hollywood

  • Jesse Levesque

    I don’t trust everything doctors say. Anyone who does, I think, is a fool. I began using Q-tips when I was 17 years old when a girlfriend had introduced them to me She, being careful, showed me how to use them and actually found and removed a chunk of earwax so large I could feel it detach! And believe it or not I was honestly able to HEAR better after the chunk of earwax came out! I then used a Q-tip in my other ear mysefl and removed a lessor sized, but substantial chunk! So In my opinion? You can’t rely on your body entirely to take care of earwax! No way! I’ve been using Q-tips every day now for 36 years and I don’t regret it one bit! I use two or three after showering to remove any dampness or wetness. If I don’t or if I stop I don’t feel right after a couple of weeks or so. Of course I’ve learned HOW to use Q-tips so they don’t hit my eardrums! I’ve wondered if it’s possible regarding babies that have needed tubes or stints to be put in their ears? If maybe their parents hadn’t been careful-enough when bathing the babies and water or dampness got in their ears too many times after baths? I’m not saying parents should use Q-tips inside babies ears, but I wouldn’t if I were them go anywhere near babies ears with a facecloth or water while bathing them!

    • Fell X …

      Well, if you know how to use a Q tip safely, that’s good for you, but the medic’s point was that she had plenty of cases of damage from Q tips.
      That means not everybody uses them carefully.
      Luckily, nowadays there are special sprays that dissolve excess earwax without risking pressure on the eardrum.

    • blewvelvet

      I agree..same here. 35 years…Also, finding the old fashioned one with Wood Sticks gives you better control.

    • Chris

      It took you 17 years before you were introduced to Q-Tips?

      • Deathkitty Fuzz

        Ya that’s gross -__- people are nasty…trust me i’ve met people like him.

  • Name

    Is ear candling a safe practice?

  • Frankie

    I call bs on this. I’ve been cleaning my ears with a q-tip ever since i was 3 years old (22 now). almost every day of my life. I insert them all the way in until it reaches my ear drum and then i slightly move it around because it feels so orgasmic. I sometimes even push a little harder and slightly move it in circles because it feels so good. Ill do this with both sides of the q-tip, five minutes on each ear. I’m always very careful and make sure no one is around me when i do it in case of accidents. I’ve never had ear problems. Maybe some people are more sensitive, but i dont know.

    • Clay Richard

      Fact is many people have punctured an ear drum doing that. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it is good for you. From what I read, crystal meth feels great too. Not that I’m saying it’s comparable just making the point that you have to use good judgement and critical thinking. That advice is the overwhelming consensus among medical experts based on strong empirical evidence. Your claim has neither any consensus or evidence. The fact that you have not yet Noticed any harmful effects is no more evidence against the warning than a chain smoker who never gets cancer is proof that cigarettes are harmless.

  • herecomestrouble

    It sounds as though the ideal method to removing ear wax would be to have the wax tip away from your ear drum rather than to dig it out with a mini farm implement. Makes me wonder… How much wax could a q-tip tip if a q-tip could tip wax?

  • Twins2Times

    Experiencing this weird “I am gonna fall” feeling after cleaning out my ears with the top of a bic pen cap. Sigh. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Why else would I be up at 3:03 googling “Off balance after cleaning ears”. Good to know I’m not alone in the world- even though I am the only one awake here tonight.

  • rob

    Don’t use q-tips. You may harm the bugs that live in there.

  • james

    actually I find that when you put the q-tip inside the ear and twist rapidly back and forth the cotten extends into the ear (works better after a shower when your ear is wet) and soaks up all the water that gets in deep. This also helps with any itch that may form inside your ear canal. Its slightly safer than digging with the q-tip because as the cotton extends due to the back and forth twisting, the stick still stays in an area where you can’t hit your ear drum.

  • NOYB

    I was really, truly under the complete impression that Q-tips were made solely for the purpose of cleaning out one’s ears and that any other use (i.e. for makeup application) was merely peripheral. Wow.

  • Jkhjhkjjh Jkhjhkjjh

    the writer seems to have mental issues or health issues that have nothing to do with a Qtip =/

  • Liz Sims

    So awesome story (Sarcasm) a week ago I got a q tip stuck in my ear. I went to the ER right away, only to find out 4 hours later that I need an ear specialist, because the tip of the q tip is hanging out next to my membraine. Also I’m living in Denmark, so sense it’s summer time here all of the ear specialists are on Holiday. I am heading back to the states on Wednesday (in 2 days) and I have to wait even longer to get it out. Suggestions? I started to feel dizzy and shaky today. And I’m hoping it’s because I’m on my 2nd cup of coffee. However I’m starting to doubt that very much. If some one has had the same experience as I do please let me know.

  • John

    Really great article. i am having a ear infection right now because of using q tips to clean out my ears which in turn removed wax that fights infections.

    I am going to use tissue after shower to dry my ears from now on.

    GREAT ARTICLE!

  • Lisa

    How will I ever give up that delicious moment of penetration?

    • Joseph Corral

      Give up sex.

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    • Jim NotReallyMyName

      I know…I love stick q-tips in my ears….feels awesome….been doing it since i was a kid…For the first time i have an ear infection…in both ears

      • Guest

        I didn’t had any ear infection since i was a young kid, i am 58 now. I still use Qtips but only 2-3 times a month. If i do i dont puch it in far, but i do worry about the ear wax.

    • Tony

      I agree with Joseph and Jim. You should ask her why does it feel so good when you stick something in there? I can’t imagine that the brain is sending a dopemine signal for trying to make yourself deaf but it feels quite pleasurable…

  • q-tip anonymous

    I had/have the vertigo – BPPV and wend to mass eye and ear. The Dr. never mentioned q-tips. said it just happens. but I do – did – use q-tips despite NUMEROUS warnings from my mother. Darn it Mom DOES always know best.

  • JustKeepSwimming

    You can use Hydrogen peroxide to clean your ears. There’s a certain way to do it so if you don’t know how search it up.

    • Fell X …

      Hydrogen peroxide, while being one of the most powerful antiseptics on the planet (it literally chemically burns the membrane of any pathogen, destroying them) it is also aggressive on sensitive skin. A quick wash-and-wipe-away might not be dangerous, but I would not recommend this method for the following reasons:
      1. Some people might buy peroxide that is too concentrated (10%, for instance) and burn their ear canal skin and get infections.
      2. some people might leave the peroxide inside for too long and again, dry their skin, which will produce micro lesions that could lead to an infection.
      To dissolve wax safely, glycerin, warmed up to around 30 – 40 degrees centigrade can safely fluidify the wax and help it being absorbed by a tissue.
      Mothers in Romania used this method for babies with ear sensitivities.
      Today we have specialized pharmacy sprays for this.
      So, JKS, you’re right. People should also know HOW to use a chemical as strong as peroxide to safely clean an ear canal.
      But do not shy away from hydrogen peroxide. It is the liquid equivalent of cauterizing a wound. Any time you get a cut just pour 1%, or 5% peroxide on it in abundance and gently wipe from the middle to the margins with a sterile tissue. It devastates pathogens and stops the bleeding. Then just add a sealant (clean Vaseline works a treat, since it’s non-reactive) and dress the wound and bind it with clean cloth. Now feel free to go to the hospital for stitches and congratulations from medical staff.
      For deep cuts, tourniquet above the cut to stop profuse bleeding first of all.

  • kkisback30

    My mom has actually encouraged my siblings and I to use cotton swabs and as I was reading this, I was using a cotton swab in my ear. Now my ear hurts but I hit the eardrum and it started bleeding.

  • Gradivus

    That may all be true. But if people really stopped putting Q-Tips into their ears, their sales would drop by 98% and they’d go out of business.

  • Dustywest

    I get excessive ear wax mixed with dust and dirt. I tried some other suggested remedies like putting warm olive oil in the ear canal w/ my head tipped side ways. I also tried hydrogen peroxide.. Both seemed to help and my hearing improved.

  • dust truck

    For what it’s worth, my own doctor told me NEVER to put alcohol in my ear because it could cause inflammation and dryness.

  • catina

    So timely for me – this morning I did what I have done every morning of my adult life. After showering I use a Q-tip to dry my ear and remove wax. So what happened this morning? When I removed the Q-tip from my left ear, there was no cotton on the end of it. It had been left behind in my ear canal. When I asked my husband to assist with removal, there was nothing to be seen, but I can feel it there.
    When I get home from work, I am going to try some olive oil, and if that doesn’t work, then I am going to the doctor, to see what he can do about it.

    • Steve

      next time don’t buy the cheap brand

  • Random, K?

    What if I put the q tip in my ear and am feeling pain weeks later?

    • Jag

      You need to be checked because you probably punctured your ear drum. Either that, or you caught water behind the wax that you pushed in, and you have an ear infection. Either way, you need to be seen by a doctor.

  • AnatomyTeacher

    My mother-in-law has had trouble with wax building up in her ears. Apparently, as you age the wax gets less malleable and thus doesn’t leave the ear as easily as it should. Her doc recommended adding a drop of olive oil to her ears to help soften the wax and let it come out on its own.
    By the way, in an attempt to reduce my Q-tip habit, I stopped cleaning my ears that way after showers. For about a week, the itchiness was almost unbearable, almost enough to pull out another Q-tip! But since then, I have noticed that it itches less and stops once the water from my shower dries. Now, when I feel like I have too much ear wax, I rub my fingers into my ears during my shower. That seems to get any excess without damaging any internal structures.

    • belgiumwaffles

      yes, that is the correct way to do it. I think that this method (just rubbing your fingers in your ears while in the shower) is the safest and most beneficial-to-your-body-and-your-comfort way!! It only removes /excess/ wax–not ALL of the wax–and your ear drum will be safe (as long as you don’t have tiny fingers, I suppose). I also do this because I want to be very careful not to damage my body! Since I’m taking an anatomy course in school, I am learning a lot about the human body, and I’ve reached the conclusion that I want to take care of mine. the human body is amazingly complex and beautiful, and I hope people make an effort not to destroy theirs! oh, I just noticed you are an anatomy teacher! :DD please spread the word, so to speak, about this way of cleaning your ears to your students!!!

  • Lisa

    The end of the qtip came off in my ear n I cant get it out

    • anonymous

      Then you need to seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY !

  • http://www.facebook.com/Susan.Price.Jang Susan Price-Jang

    Regarding the little things the Japanese use to clean their ears – someone does it for them, usually a lover, who places his head in his lover’s lap (as seen on woodblock prints). Or, I have seen people in China get their ears cleaned by a street vendor (similar to a barber) using those little stick things. BUT HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART — Asian ear wax is different than Caucasian ear wax. Caucasian ear wax is orange and wax, one might say greasy. Asian ear wax is like white dust and can turn into little chunks. My husband (3rd generation Chinese-American) and my son (Korean adoptee) both have ear wax very different from mine (Northern European-American). (A subject of some discussion in our mixed extended family). I used to have to clean out my son’s ears when he was smaller – when I first learned about his ear wax it was when he was 4 and the doctor flushed out a big chunk of ear wax with a jet of water. Later I periodically cleaned little chunks out of his ears with some of those Japanese/Chinese ear cleaner things. As he got older the problem seemed to disappear.

  • Nwobodo Nnaemeka

    i am currently suffering this right now and i thank God for this site. i felt my ears were really dirty and so i tried to clean it deeply and since then i have been feeling this catch-up vertigo. i am hoping on God that it will stop, mine has lasted a week now. thank you so much and God bless you. please suggest thing i could do to make it stop faster to me.

  • Can I hear you now?

    Orgasmic is right, because satisfying an itch is the ultimate orgasm. The hair dryer “blow job” does not sound safe either as even on low, that’s a lot of decibels. I have hearing loss, wear earplugs when using blower to dry hair and use Q-Tips ever so carefully for ears. Wearing hearing aids causes itchiness.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      yeah the blow dryer thing does not work great for water sometimes its good if you have pressure from a cold or allergy or infection

      • Clay Richard

        I use the bubble syringe that comes with ear wax remover to blow air into my ear.

  • granvee

    I woke up this morning about 5:00 and fell into the wall by my bed when I got up to go to the bathroom.I couldn’t eat anything until just about 30 minutes ago. I KNEW I shouldn’t have used q-tips for my ears yesterday. That almost always causes vertigo, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. Sometimes I feel I MUST use a q-tip and I never go far into the ear, but I need to remember the VERTIGO next time I have an impulse to do that!

    I really wan’t sure if using q-tips could even cause vertigo, but now I know I am not making it up like people think. I had thought for a few years it caused my vertigo .

    Darn little things come in handy for so many other things I would hate to throw them away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TonyRaver Tony Russell

    I have a suggestion: How about wearing earplugs when you shower?

  • that one dude

    I always clean my ears this lady is BS just stop trying to shove it halfway into your ear and you will be fine. Q tips are meant to clean the outer part of the ear dont go deep its not sex.

    • Clay Richard

      You’re calling the article BS, then repeating the advice she gives: Clean only the outside, but don’t go in. Lots of people injure themselves with Q-Tips

  • matt marques

    thank you so mach for your advise, to bad it came a litle late for me. i am having hear problems because i have used them most of my life. i hope manny people reads this article

  • FortWinnie

    just today my Aunt told me “You’re not supposed to put swabs in your ears” well, at the moment i had been pulling out wads of tissue paper since I didn’t have any swabs. But, the reason i use either is the same reason you said you did it – the water after a shower still in my ears. . . thanks for the post. little did i know i was making it worse every day. I have bumped my ear drum many times I haven’t noticed any marked deafness, but i had soreness after each time it happened. –I have to agree with PithHelmut, it’s like a hole no one has discovered for sexual pleasure. I’ll give it a shot for a week or so and let the wax build up and see if I still get water in the ear after a shower by that point. then i will determine the Doc’s advice sound or not. I’ve too seen gobs of dark yellow wax in ears before, mostly old men, and usually in church is the best time and place to peek at waxy ears if you have a wax-fetish. Again, thanks for the post. The rest of you – take care of your ears – peace worldwide – - pipe dreams, perhaps however I’d rather prosperity for my progeny instead of purgatory.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      I was thinking of giving it a test run for two weeks. I have pulled some pretty funky stuff out of there from time to time and its hard to believe I should leave it in there

      • Clay Richard

        My doctor explained that some people’s ears just produce too much wax. Stop putting anything in your ear, than after a few weeks have them checked by your doctor to see if it is building up. If you have that problem, he may recommend you use a product made to safely remove it.

  • Molly53

    Yes, I had the vertigo too, and I use Q-tips every few days. I’ll stop now that I know it’s bad.

  • mcotten332

    For anyone who gets water trapped in their ear and it sometimes leads to earaches heres how I solved this problem.Only use q tips when you actually get that feeling that water’s trapped in their.All experts say not to use qtips daily so I quit that and now just use them in emergencies.Also asap go take a brisk walk,go jogging/running or find some stairs and go up and down a few times,the impact when you land on your feet over and over causes the water to drain downward.No more painful earaches for me this way.

  • Amber

    I had a q-tip in my ear…turned to tell my kid to stop doing something, and jammed it in my ear…only hurt for about 10 seconds, but really bad! I have had problems ever since…still use q-tips…but I learned my lesson.

  • mkt

    One other thing about earwax: it can build up over the years. Apparently in Asians especially, although it can affect others too: if you attended MIT before the 1990s you probably remember Celtics announcer Johnny Most, who thought he was losing his hearing until his doctor cleaned out his ears — and found an earphone inside!

    But the answer is NOT Q-tips. A nurse can irrigate your ear for you (literally takes a rubber bulb and squirts water inside). And the doctor recommended Debrox earwax drops. I use Debrox maybe once every couple of years, no more trips to the nurse for ear irrigation. And yes stay away from Q-tips.

  • Anonymous

    Another reason: Q-Tips are slightly abrasive, enough so to slightly injure the very delicate skin of the ear canal. The moist-&-injured skin then becomes a great place for bacteria & mold to grow. The result is called an “external ear infection.” I know first-hand that this infection, and its treatment, are amazingly painful. My Mass Eye & Ear doctor told me, as he started my prolonged treatment, that Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) doctors treat a lot of external ear infections that are caused by Q-Tips, and that many ENTs wish for this reason (and others) that Q-Tips could be banned.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      don’t let Bloomberg hear that. on a side not the autocorrect feature is getting out of hand I don’t want to capitalize bloomberg

  • http://www.junkdrawerblog.com JunkDrawer

    I don’t understand why Unilever (and others) don’t just make the cotton tips larger so they can’t get into the canal, yet can still clean the ear. Such a simple solution.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      I have seen giant sized q tips

      • K

        Laughed my head off reading all these QTip stories. Thanks for a great evening!

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          I have found this to be the most informative comments section on a wbur article yet

  • Rand

    Did reading this make anyone else’s ears itch like crazy? I’ve got to reach for a Q-tip, albeit carefully…

  • http://www.sternlight.com David Sternlight

    For hundreds of years the Japanese have been using little rods with cylindrical fins to clean their ears. They have flat ends to avoid punctures. These days they are made of plastic, and can be obtained at any Japanese pharmacy or via the Internet. I still have a pair of metal ones I bought in Tokyo about 50 years ago. They have two sizes (or two ends of different size for the plastic ones), since many people’s ear canals are not of the same size. I’ve been using them daily for 50 years; so far, so good. This is the first time I’ve heard of benefits from leaving the wax in. In at least my case my hearing of higher frequencies is better with the wax out, which is important in listening to classical music.

    • dust truck

      look up “earwax removal” on youTube to see some gross examples of this in action

      • http://privatescouts.webs.com/ Clarence Caldsman

        … Don’t think it’s a good idea to promote that …

  • Carl Gay

    Thanks for posting this. Great info and I will no longer be cleaning my ears with Q-tips. But no, I don’t think the warnings should be bigger! I read it many times and simply ignored it, not because it was too small, but because I assumed it was there due to the same kinds of liability issues that force ladder makers to put signs that say not to stand on the top rung: an overly-litigious society.

  • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

    Oh, baloney. Been using them for years and scratching your eardrum gently is one 3 orgasmic feelings in life. People must have insanely sensitive ears or be jamming them in spasticly to have these problems. I use silicone earplugs often and you need to clean your ears when you’re trapping air and bugs in there for 8 hours. Only danger is if tip comes off (w cheapos), then you’ve got a sharp prong, and have to dig around w sharp tweezers to pull it out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      yes a good point is to use genuine Q-tip brand all others are inferior and dangerous

  • Fidor

    twist up a small piece of tissue. No chance of puncturing eardrum and it feels eargasmic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      I have tried that when I have ran out of qtips and I think that’s what I will switch to

  • Zzzz

    Well everyone knows what Qtips are for, they’re for putting in your kids ear:-)

  • Matt Mulvey

    I still use the Q-Tips. What I do is after I dry out water after my morning shower, I use a solution of 9 parts alcohol and 1 part white vinegar (one drop in each ear). The alcohol kills bacteria and the vinegar (acid too) lubricates the ear canal. Great trick for people that get recurring ear aches!

  • tonbo0422

    I wish someone would write an article about never using over-the-couter nasal spray. Just look up the words “Rhinitis medicamentis” and you’ll see why. That stuff is nasty.

  • e2verne

    I don’t get the why of this story. So one reporter did something dumb – she probably does other dumb stuff. Will we have to read about those things as well? For those of you who are deciding to throw away your Q-Tips – when folks start moving away from you because you have dirty ears, you might want to buy some more. The outer ear needs to be cleaned, if you don’t use a washcloth, you better have some Q-Tips.

  • Donny

    I love using a curved end of a paperclip. Fold it out like an “S” and then use the fatter bended part. Probably ill-advised given this article, but it scoops out excessive wax without packing it back like a q-tip. Been doing so for about 12 years, no infections, no punctures. Just saying. But, I probably will take the advice and stop doing so.

  • BK

    Ummm, then what are QTips for, anyway?

  • RichSPK

    I don’t usually worry about wax in my ears, but on the occasion that I feel I have excess build-up (trouble hearing, or I get an instant of vertigo after sneezing) I put a few drops of earwax removal solution (Auro brand is in my medicine cabinet right now) in my ear and leave it there for a few minutes. Then I flush it out with a rubber bulb and warm water. Frankly, you could probably skip the solution and just flush with warm water.

  • isarose

    I have excessive wax in my ears, and can’t fly without extreme pain for days due to blockage. I use Hydrogen peroxide now for 5 min at a time – do I have to wash the peroxide out, or can I leave it and let it air dry.
    Once I had a problem with Q-tips – pieces of cotton stayed in my ears and I had to go to an MD for removal.

  • LeonardNicodemo

    I use a product like this to clean up any excess gunk in my ears every few days:
    http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/ototek-loop-ear-wax-removal-tool/ID=prod359743-product?ext=gooPersonal_Care_PLA_Ear_Drops_ampersand_Wax_Removal_prod359743_pla&adtype={adtype}&Kpid=prod359743&sst=0004d0c3-fc32-06a8-23de-00000579edae

    • cq

      I tried this exact tool last night, drove miles to buy it. What a waste of time and money. The Ototek Loop doesn’t go in far enough. No wonder it was on sale and is so cheap.

  • reformed

    I used to Q-tip daily. And I would have such odd sensations in my ears, almost like a vibrating itch. Read in Prevention magazine that removing the wax from all the little hairs might be causing this. As this post says, the wax is there for a reason. I stopped and the sensation went away.

  • Ed

    Been using q-tips for 50 years (wife and 2 sons also). No problems. Clean dry ears.

    • Martian Minisculio

      Me too. I don’t shove the thing into my ear, and I certainly don’t do it every day, or even every week. This doctor sounds arrogant and condescending: “If you put a Q-tip in your ear so the entire cotton has gone in, you’re
      probably touching your ear drum. People always say they didn’t go in
      that far, and they always do.” No reason to heed a “caretaker” with personality problems that severely inflamed!

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/JMBSE52T3FEKMF6VX3NCDTJD3Y Jo

        or maybe over her years as a professional, she has seen numerous cases of patients who swear they didn’t shove the q-tip deep enough into their ear canal to cause the damage that brought them to see her….

        • Vanstrom Dracul

          Or perhaps she’s so sick and tired of having to repeat the same thing over and over every single day. LOL

  • E. Hall

    I think the writer is talking about making the Q-tips bigger, not the warnings. That would prevent it from going deep into the ear. But I’d like to know the answer posed by someone else: if not for ears, what are Q-tips for?

    • Jacob

      As for what Q-tips (or cotton swabs) exist for, I can tell you that a 1929 encyclopedia that used to be in my family had in it an article about caring for babies which recommended wrapping a bit of cotton batting around the end of a toothpick and using it to clean the baby’s ears. I’m sure that cotton swabs were invented as an improvement on cleaning ears with a toothpick. The knowledge of medical reasons that earwax should not be removed probably came much later.

      As for what useful purpose cotton swabs could serve now – well, they’re effective as paintbrushes for some small craft projects.

  • granny

    I was told not to put anything smaller than my elbow in my ear(s)!!

    • Mike-

      It should be: “don’t put anything *except* your elbow in your ear” !

  • mxgdragon

    Thanks for sharing this information. I’m a regular swimmer and admitted Q-tip abuser. I recently started to feel the effects of BPPV, and had no idea when it would happen (usually when I would try falling asleep), or what might be causing it. Further, I am now experiencing excessive build-up of water in my ears after swimming, which did not occur in the past. I’m going to follow the blower dry advice from now on and hope I’m done with these bad symptoms. Thanks!

    • Timbo

      I found the blow dryer doesn’t work very well, but a drop or two of alcohol works great. Unfortunately, with regular use the alcohol dries out the inside of the ear canal and can cause itching. I read somewhere that when you hum, it sets off vibrations inside the ear that will cause the water to run out. Now, after I shower or swim, and while I stretch on the floor, I just turn my head to one side and hum out loud for a few seconds and the water almost always runs right out. And that way my ear canals never get dry and itchy any more.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505437920 Jennifer Hughes

        Aha! So singing in the shower is actually good for your ears! Cool. :)

    • RichSPK

      Try pulling up on your ear lobe while you tip your head. I learned to do this to get ear plugs to fit right when I ride a motorcycle, and I found it sometimes also helps to get water to run out after a shower.

  • Duck_of_Death

    No. 4 decades (of using Q-Tips) and counting. So far, so good.

  • Anonymous

    No, the warning should not be bigger. The education should be better. “Warning: do not use in ear. Visit wbur.org/xyz or scan this QR code for more information.”

    Fight ignorance with knowledge, not more powerful uninformative statements.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      c’mon then they would not be able to sell hardly any

  • RD6358

    Interesting earwax-related anecdote in a recent New Yorker article on microbiomes, the colonies of microbes that live in our bodies. A patient who could not cure his ear infection with prescribed antibiotics and other medical treatments solved his problem by transferring earwax from his “good” ear to the other one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      a little eucalyptis oil can do the trick too

      • http://privatescouts.webs.com/ Clarence Caldsman

        No wonder Koalas only eat Eucalyptus leaves! It helps with their ears!

  • http://twitter.com/stephanhov Stephan Hovnanian

    Good info, and considering the fact there seems to be less “tip” on the “Q” these days, I might not bother buying them again anyway.

  • tim

    I used a q-tip twice last week to clean ears….and sat woke up with what felt like vertigo. I’ve never had this before and I did not make the connection between the two but now it makes perfect sense.

  • Val

    So what, exactly, are Q-tips for?

    • quipper

      eye makeup

    • Gradivus

      Painting model cars and planes, and hand-pollinating plants.

    • Doubting_Thomas12

      After being dunked in isopropyl alcohol, they’re amazing for cleaning silver nitrate off of delicate CPUs and GPUs

      • jeremy violette

        what do you mean what is amazing for cleaning nitrate off cpu’s

      • jeremy violette

        what do u mean what is good for cleaning silver off cpu’s i have always tried to figure out how to get the precious metals out of there i have heard its dangerous but a while ago i got all kinds of cpu fingers the platinum plates and all kinds of things that were supposibly gold and silver i just never got to the point on how to extract them off the boards and everything if u know alot about how to do that stuff let me know thomas12

    • JOEL FLAMINGO

      Q-Tips are for drying you urethra after a long night, as to prevent any bacteria cultures from growing inside.

    • Stoshy

      Ruining your ears.

  • mumtothree

    I read that a good way to get excess ear wax to the outside, where it can be safely removed with a Q-tip, is to tug on your ear lobes.

  • Anne D

    I can only validate the specialists advice; if you’ve had any ear problems try to get to a ENT not your primary. I had mastoid surgery when I was a teenager; last year possibly because of the earlier surgery I had to have my specialist remove wax-it is not a pleasant experience! I don’t think making the warning bigger will help-good topic for public health though;

  • Aunt Vocus

    I am addicted to Q-tipping because my ears are so itchy. Antibiotic drops help but oohh, that Q-tipping feeling is soooo good.

    • Martha

      Many years ago I went to a dermatologist in practice with his ENT specialist wife. My left ear was so itchy at times that I could not resist scratching it. He diagnosed it as eczema and prescribed his own brand of cortisone drops, which didn’t seem to help. Over the years the itchiness would return sometimes but I found that using Neaclear Oxygen 1% Hydrocortisone cream for a week or two makes my ear canals feel normal, but it seems hard to find (I emailed the company tonight) In looking up Neaclear to buy another tube I also found this product which sounds good-
      http://preview.tinyurl.com/p3vv29r

    • Christy

      Your ear canals are probably itchy because the skin is irritated from the Q-tips. Stop using them and after a few days and the irritation/itchy feeling should go away (unless you have some sort of infection, at which point go see your primary care physician). After a few more days wax production/drainage should return to normal – you want that wax in there! It’s water-proof, anti-microbial, AND insect repellant! Your ear canals are self-cleaning, so unless your ears produce an unusually large amount of wax, excessive wax shouldn’t be a problem (and if it is excessive, have it removed by your doctor; don’t do it yourself, you might just push it farther back in there, and then it won’t come out without your doctor removing it anyway!)

      • Jkhjhkjjh Jkhjhkjjh

        i tried leaving them for a couple of weeks, the itching got worse. i only feel good when i use qtips.

  • gig-girl

    I’ve often heard this, and must assume that people are literally putting the Q-tip INSIDE their ear, like to a place that you can’t see! I just use it to gently swab the part of my ear that I can see, but can’t quite get to with a finger. This is just to dry it and also to get any residual wax — I mean, c’mon, who wants to be looking at someone and see globs of yellow wax in their ear? (But not “in” the ear; let’s say that it’s inside the outer ear!)

    • RichSPK

      I’ve never seen globs of yellow wax in someone’s ear. Maybe you’re looking too close?

      • http://twitter.com/JLVE187 Rob Camz

        not true buddy next time you are around people just take a LOOK! ITS GROSS!

  • PithHelmut

    But it’s such an orgasmic feeling cleaning your ears with a Q-tip. Darn.

    • Lupitahh.

      That is exactly what I feel! Im practically addicted to putting Q-tips in my ears. It just feels so good!

    • SamIam

      i totally agree, it feels wonderful. i usually dip the tip in very hot water (sterile) so that any wax melts on the tip. i will be sad to give this up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.brunelle Alexander Brunelle

    is Apple causeing irreversable damage to my ear drum with their iBuds?

    • CriticalThinking77

      No. They don’t go in far enough. That said, if the volume coming out of the earbuds is too loud, for too long a period of time, that can lead to hearing loss.

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      I’ve heard that you are safe if you listen to music at 60% or max volume for no more than 60 minutes. I’ve heard it called “the 60/60 rule”

  • Tim

    What about earplugs?

    • careyg

      You mean, are they safe? Or should I use them in the shower?

      • Tim

        Are they safe?

    • CriticalThinking77

      You can have custom ear plugs made for swimming or for use in the shower, if it interests you. Just visit your local audiologist. Beyond stand alone practices, a lot of ENT offices have “in-house” audiologists too.