The Dangerous Item Hiding in Your Medicine Cabinet

A danger hides in plain sight in your medicine cabinet. And it’s not nail clippers or prescription medications. A gentler culprit turns deadly in the hands of adults when used on children. Keep reading to learn more.

Think twice when cleaning a child’s ears

Let’s face it, kids get dirty. | Stockbyte/Getty Images

Helping children clean their ears seems innocent enough. But harm can be done to children when their parents use cotton swabs to clean their ears. According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, an average of 12,500 children go to the hospital every year for injuries because of cotton swabs.

Hint: How cotton swabs cause damage.

Don’t stick a cotton swab too deep

A mistake with a cotton swab can have permanent repercussions. | SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

What happens to kids when adults clean their ears is they stick a cotton swab too deep, damaging a child’s ear. Sticking a cotton swab “too deep into your ear canal can cause bleeding, dizziness, tympanic membrane perforation, and even hearing loss,” Real Simple says.

Hint: Give the cotton swabs a break.

Don’t clean your ears often

You don’t have to clean your ears as much as you think. | Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

“There is a misconception among the general public that the ear canal requires regular cleaning and that cotton-tip applicators are good products for that purpose,” researchers write in the study. “Generally speaking, the ear canal is self-cleaning,” Christopher Chang, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Warrenton, Virginia, tells SELF. “You really don’t have to do a whole lot,” he adds.

Hint: Doctors know.  

Doctors see the culprit

Doctors advise against using cotton swabs in your ears. | Monkeybusinessimages/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Going overboard with a cotton swab won’t go unnoticed by a doctor. A cotton swab sized hole can be made in the eardrum, according to SELF. “You can actually see the impression of the Q-tip on the earwax,” using a scope, according to Chang.

Hint: You may damage the eardrum.

Ears are fragile

the eardrum is incredibly fragile. | Gordon Anthony/Getty Images

The eardrum is a fragile part of the human body. Shoving a stick covered in cotton close to the eardrum is not good. The worst case scenario is the cotton swab can pierce the eardrum, which is as painful as it sounds. The healing process can take anywhere from weeks to months, according to SELF.

Hint: The healing process is simple.

Ears are self-healing

A doctor should be able to reassure you; your ear will probably be okay. | Megaflopp

“The good news,” Chang tells SELF, “is that the vast majority of the time the body will heal the hole closed on its own. Depending on how big the hole is, it may close up completely in a week.” If you or your child has ear pain, visit a physician for an examination.

Hint: Children of this age get the most injuries.  

No do-it-yourself moments

Keep cotton swabs out of the hands of kids. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The study says most children who go to the hospital with cotton swab related ear injuries are 2 years old. Most of the injuries are caused by children holding the swab themselves. While a cotton swab isn’t a sharp object, they can still be dangerous to kids. Be sure to keep your box of Q Tips out of reach of any little ones.

Hint: Put the Q Tips down.

Seriously, don’t clean your kids’ ears.

Palmetto Health Richland

A cotton swab accident could lead to a trip to the hospital. | Palmettohealth.org

Don’t let your child clean their ears and don’t clean their ears yourself. A whopping 73 percent of injuries are caused during attempts to clean the ear, according to the study. This reinforces the fact that cleaning your kids’ ears is dangerous. Simply, don’t do it.

Hint: Don’t let children play with cotton swabs.

Accidents happen

medicine cabinet

Keep cotton swabs out of reach of children. | MargotCavin/Getty Images

10 percent of the injuries occur when kids play with cotton swabs. Again, keep cotton swabs on a high shelf in the bathroom to keep from having to make a visit to the ER. Another nine percent of injuries happen when a child falls or bumps into an object or another person. Adults, take the same advice. Don’t try multitasking and cleaning your ears at the same time.

Hint: Ear wax is good for your ears.

Why ear wax is good for you

The ear is self-cleaning. | Scott Barbour/Getty Images

“Moisturizing the ear canal and blocking out dirt and germs,” is the function of ear wax. Both good things keeping the ear functioning properly. “Contrary to public belief, cerelum [that’s the fancy word for ear wax] is beneficial for the ear, and the ear has a natural mechanism for self-cleaning,” researchers say.

Hint: Have a professional ear cleaning.

Have ear wax professionally removed

Handsome doctor is talking with young female patient a

A doctor can take care of ear wax. | GeorgeRudy/iStock/Getty Images

If wax buildup occurs, go see a doctor who can remove the wax properly. A good indicator of wax buildup is if your ear pops frequently from slight movements. Doctors use a long tube, almost like a vacuum attachment, to suck the wax from the eardrum. The cleaning process is over within a few minutes.

Hint: Clean your ears the right way.

The safest way to clean your ears

Getting your ears flushed feels weird, but it’s a relief. | Chris Jackson/Getty Images

If you’re going to continue to clean your own ears, follow these steps. When wax buildup gets annoying, fill an ear syringe with water to flush out the ear. Chang tells SELF getting water stuck in your ear isn’t dangerous. For kids, the safest thing to do is to visit a physician, who can remove the wax.

Hint: This drugstore solution doesn’t work.

Don’t buy an ear candle

Ear candling has very few real effects. | Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

“Ear candling is dangerous […] and serves no legitimate purpose and there is no scientific evidence showing effectiveness for use,” Jackie Clark, PhD, Douglas L. Beck AuD, and Walter Kutz, MD, of The American Academy of Audiology, write. Don’t use them on children either. “Some ear candles are advertised for use with children (including babies), potentially placing them at great risk—with no known or documented benefit.”

Hint: Other uses for cotton swabs

Cotton swab uses

Soap dispensers, Cotton swabs and other toiletries

There are still plenty of uses for cotton swabs. | iStock.com/Okea

If you decide to quit cleaning your ears with a cotton swab, don’t immediately throw them all away. Cotton swabs have many uses. Fix a jammed zipper, remove debris from a computer keyboard or hair dryer, or perfect makeup with cotton swabs, according to Reader’s Digest. They can even be useful tools when crafting.

Hint: Remember this about ear cleaning.

The bottom line: ear cleaning is dangerous

There’s a lot that can go wrong with ear cleaning. | SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

At home ear cleaning is risky, especially for kids. Leave ears to their own devices until wax buildup interferes with hearing or causes pain. A cotton swab can actually push the wax deeper into the ear. Seek professional help with ear wax removal, instead of using at-home tools.

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