Q-Tips Are Sending a Surprising Number of Children to the ER

A friendly reminder that they're not intended for ear-cleaning.
ByKelly Corbett
Published
May 2017
q-tips against yellow background
Photo: iStock

Trust us, you’ll want to hear this: Using cotton swabs to clean the inside of baby’s ears is actually doing much more harm than good.

Between 1990 and 2010, more than 263,300 US children visited a hospital emergency room for a cotton swab-related ear injury, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. When you break that down, that’s about 34 injuries a day.

About three quarter of these cases are the result of an ear cleaning fail, resulting either in ear bleeding or the sensation of something being stuck in the ear canal. In most cases, the 2-and-under crowd is to blame, since kids are sticking cotton swabs in their own ears. But parents are certainly responsibly some of the time—and siblings account for 7 percent of injuries.

About 73 percent of these cases were a result of ear cleaning, with foreign body sensation or bleeding listed as the main reasons for the ER visit. Newborns to children aged three made up nearly one third of the children affected by these cotton-swab related injuries.

While injury results drop after age 2, this might be a habit hard for us to nix. A number of surveys show we’re all for ear cleaning, as 90 percent of respondents believed ears should be cleaned and say they regularly clean their ears or their children’s ears, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. This means most of us are using these soft-tip applicators, but we don’t necessarily need to.

“There’s this misconception that people need to clean their ears in the home setting and that this is the product to do that with,” Dr. Kris Jatana, senior author of the study and a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, tells TODAY. He explains that the ears are actually self cleaning. “It is risky to use cotton-tip applicators in the ear canal across all age groups, and certainly we are seeing way too many injuries as a result of this practice."

Are you going to swap out the swabs and let your ears clean naturally?

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