Here’s what to do instead if the wax is terribly crippling and it must come out. (GETTY IMAGES)
If you’ve stuck a Q-tip (or other type of cotton swab) in your ear, it’s probably crossed your mind once or twice: How far can I go?
It probably crossed your mind again if you’re a fan of HBO’s television series “Girls,” where main character Hannah Horvath infamously jammed a Q-tip too far into her ear in season two.
Maybe you’re one of many people questioning the meaning of it all via the community website Quora, home to numerous earwax inquiries: “Are Q-tips bad for your ears?” “Why does using Q-Tips feel so good?” “What happens if you touch your eardrum with a Q-Tip?”
News flash: Neither you, nor Hannah nor the people of Quora should use Q-tips for ear cleaning in the first place, according to Seattle-based neurotologist Dr. Seth Schwartz. He specializes in ear and skull base surgery.
“If you stick it too far, it can lodge wax up against the eardrum,” Schwartz tells U.S. News. “If you keep pushing it can perforate the eardrum itself and can even damage the hearing bones and inner ear. This can lead to hearing loss or deafness and vertigo.”
For what it’s worth, Q-tip owner Unliever has advised against using them for this purpose in the past. “People may use it [Q-tips] for ear cleaning, but we instruct against it,” Carolyn Stanton, a Unilever spokeswoman told The Washington Post last year.
Schwartz has seen perforations in his practice, but his colleagues have encountered “more significant trauma.” Typically the trauma affects the ear canal skin which, though painful, isn’t likely to result in worse complications.
But what if the wax is terribly crippling and it must come out? Schwartz recommends cleaning your ears by wiping wax away with a towel or tissue following a shower or bath.
“If the wax is stuck deeper in, wax softening drops can be quite effective,” Schwartz adds. “If that doesn’t work, there are some gentle home irrigating devices. If that is unsuccessful then they should see a doctor for an evaluation and cleaning … The symptoms are not always from ear wax. Many people with new onset hearing loss think it is just wax until they find out it isn’t.”
There you have it. Use a Q-tip at your own risk – and possibly “hear” from your doctor.
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