Hygiene habits are hard to break, but some have been shown to be flat-out dangerous. New research shows that cotton swabs cause thousands of ER trips for kids each year, prompting doctors to stress that these objects really should be kept out of little ones' ear canals, always. Though this is common sense to some, the numbers show that not everyone is listening. So why not say it once more: Cotton swabs and ear canals are a terrible combination.
“The ear canals are usually self-cleaning," clarified Kris Jatana, MD, who is a senior author of the cotton swab study from the Department of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Associate Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear." So though the sensation of a cotton swab in your ear might feel nice, it's doing more harm than good.
But how many ears are affected, exactly? The numbers are pretty high. Approximately 34 kids per day on average end up ER-bound for cotton swab related ear injuries, which adds up to about 12,500 per year. Once again: Cotton swabs + ears = terrible idea.
OK, so you know not to clean your own kids' ears, but is that enough? Honestly, you just might need to confiscate cotton swabs altogether. Think of them like scissors: Alright under supervision, but unsuitable for children to play with alone. The study concluded that the majority of the injuries "occurred with children themselves handling CTAs (cotton-tipped applicators) while cleaning their ears," so even though you know that a cotton swab isn't meant for the inside of an ear, your kids might not.
This study deals with a lot of data. Spanning from 1990 to 2010, the numbers showed that the highest rate of injury was for children 0-3 years old — an age bracket that may not fully comprehend the ban on cotton swabs. (I mean, the tips are perfectly ear-sized, so it is kind of confusing.) The results did reveal some good news, though: From 2000 to 2011, there was a significant, 26 percent decrease in injuries, so it looks like we're heading in the right direction.
"It is still unacceptably high," Jatana still insists. "These products may seem harmless, but this study shows how important it is that they not be used to clean ears." Though it might go against how you've used them in the past, keep the cotton swabs for all of your external hygiene needs and keep them far, far away from your kids. The last thing you need is an out-of-the-blue ER trip for something that was totally avoidable.