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Hear This! Keep Cotton Swabs Out of Kids' Ears

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 8th 2017

new article illustration

MONDAY, May 8, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Thousands of kids wind up in U.S. emergency rooms every year for ear injuries caused by cotton swabs, a new study reveals.

The analysis of federal data found that about 263,000 children were treated in emergency departments for ear injuries caused by cotton swabs over the 21-year period from 1990 through 2010.

That works out to about 12,500 such injuries a year, or about 34 injuries a day.

"The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them; both of those are incorrect," said senior study author Dr. Kris Jatana. He's with Nationwide Children's Hospital's department of pediatric otolaryngology, in Columbus, Ohio.

"The ears canals are usually self-cleaning. 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," Jatana said in a hospital news release.

Indeed, most of the injuries occurred while using cotton swabs to clean the ears (73 percent), the findings showed. The rest occurred while playing with cotton swabs (10 percent), or with children falling when they had cotton swabs in their ear (9 percent).

The majority of injuries occurred when children were using cotton swabs by themselves (77 percent), followed by when a parent (16 percent) or sibling (6 percent) was using a cotton swab to clean a child's ear.

About two-thirds of patients were younger than 8, and children under 3 accounted for 40 percent of all injuries, according to the report.

The most common injuries were foreign body sensation (30 percent), perforated ear drum (25 percent) and soft tissue injury (23 percent). Foreign body sensation was the most common injury among children aged 8 to 17, while perforated ear drum was the most common among those younger than 8.

Ninety-nine percent of patients were treated and released. However, damage to the ear drum, hearing bones or inner ear can result in dizziness, balance problems and irreversible hearing loss, the researchers noted.

The study was published online May 8 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

More information

The American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery has more on ear wax and care.