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Woman holding a cotton swab up to her ear canal

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

“Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Entering the ear canal could result in injury.”

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

You see, it’s not just physicians, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the ears—even the producers of cotton swabs think it’s a bad idea!

But why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a commonly used method of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so adamant that you don’t use their product in this way?

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

1. Earwax is invaluable

Earwax has quite a few useful functions aside from being gross. It has antibacterial attributes to protect against infections, it functions as an insect repellent to keep bugs out of your ears, and it helps to lubricate the ear canal, which helps prevent dried out, itchy skin.

2. Cotton Swabs push earwax up against the eardrum

Using cotton swabs can actually be dangerous. When you drive any foreign object into the ear canal, you’re pushing 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 constructed to remove its own earwax. The natural movements of your jaw—from talking, eating, or yawning—will push the earwax to the external ear. All that’s required on your part is regular showering and cleaning the outer ear with a washcloth.

4. Too much earwax removal causes dryness

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

What you can do instead

There are several commercial (and do-it-yourself) solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far safer than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if you’re having problems with surplus earwax or you’re having trouble hearing, it’s always best to pay a visit to a hearing professional.

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