Our ears are naturally designed to clean themselves. Nevertheless, people all over the country passionately clean their ear canals with cotton swabs. Sometimes with devastating consequences.
It is not uncommon for people to end up in the emergency room after intensively cleaning their ears with cotton swabs. An American cross-sectional analysis has shown that the most common cause of eardrum perforations treated in the emergency setting is due to “foreign body instruments, including cotton-tipped applicators.”
Forgot a cotton swab in your ear
The deputy senior physician at the ear, nose and throat clinic at the Aarau Cantonal Hospital, Tobias Engert, is also familiar with such cases. “Older people can sometimes get distracted while cleaning their ears and then forget the cotton swab in their ear.” With fatal consequences: “Some then lie on their side and push the ear swab deep into their ear.”
Hole in the eardrum caused by ear sticks
Engert regularly sees injuries to the eardrum and occasionally even injuries to the cochlea, which is anatomically located deeper in the head. And not just for older patients.
Every now and then he also has to remove parts of ear rods from the ear canal. The ear canal can also be injured by brushing your ears too vigorously.
Professional cleaning of the ear canal
Removing earwax plugs is part of the everyday life of ear, nose and throat doctors. No wonder the cotton swab is the natural enemy of all ENT doctors.
When brushing with ear swabs, only part of the earwax is removed; the majority is pushed into the ear instead of taken out. Over time, a plug forms that must be removed by a specialist using a special vacuum cleaner.
Why does cleaning your ears make you feel happy?
The vagus nerve is responsible for this. It is the switching point between the brain and the organs. Branches of this nerve also lead to the ear. In addition, the vagus nerve also influences our well-being. Accordingly, cleaning your ears triggers feelings of happiness for many people. Some also experience coughing when cleaning their ears. This stimulus also goes back to the vagus nerve.
Over time, earwax can also form into a pea-sized, solid ball that then comes to rest on the eardrum. The result: The patient hears worse or even hears a slight crackling sound. Here, too, Engler works with his microscopic examination device and removes the solidly formed beads with the suction device or a special hook that only experts work with.
How to clean ears?
Our ears are actually naturally designed to clean themselves. Because earwax has a protective function and should not be removed. “It keeps the ear canal supple and protects against bacteria or insects,” says Engert.
The ENT doctor primarily recommends self-cleaning. If you can’t help it, you should clean your ears with clear water. The easiest way to do this is in the shower. “Earwax at the entrance to the ear is best removed with the little finger and the fingernail of the ear.”
The self-cleaning process has an additional positive effect: If you clean your ears less, you produce less earwax.
Stay away from ear coils and ear candles
Engert also advises against using other cleaning devices such as ear screws or spirals. These push more in than they get out. “And stay away from ear candles,” says Engler. “Hot wax can cause burns and the eardrum can also be affected.”