Cotton Swabs Don’t Belong in a Child’s Ear

A recent study says that thousands of children have been treated in emergency departments across the country for injuries related to cotton swabs being put in their ears. Ellen Rome, M.D. gives tips for keeping ears clean and healthy.

Download Script

Download Text Web Article

Download Video Sound Bite 1 (HD.mov)*
Download Video Sound Bite 2 (HD.mov)*
Download Video B-roll (HD.mov)*

Download Audio Sound Bite 1 (MP3)
Download Audio Sound Bite 2 (MP3)

NOTE: *Content is property of Cleveland Clinic and for news media use only. Please email missone@ccf.org to request a password to enable download.

CLEVELAND – Most people have heard the old saying that you shouldn’t put anything bigger than your elbow in your ear – it turns out that’s good advice.

A recent study shows that thousands of children have been treated in emergency departments across the country for injuries related to cotton swabs being put in their ears.

Ellen Rome, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s did not take part in the study, but said that it’s never a good idea to put a cotton swab in the ear.

“With respect to ears and ear hygiene, nothing smaller than a finger should go in a kid’s ear or in a parent’s ear,” said Dr. Rome.

According to researchers, most of the injuries, which ranged from bleeding to perforated ear drums were the result of children trying to clean their own ears using cotton swabs.

Dr. Rome said putting a cotton swab into the ear can push the wax further in.

A cotton swab may also perforate the ear drum, which can cause pain and even hearing loss.

Instead of using a cotton swab to remove troublesome ear wax, Dr. Rome recommends using a little hydrogen peroxide.

“Pick up a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, pour a little bit in the cap, dilute that little bit – half and half with water – pour a couple of drops in each ear, tilt the head and hold it for twenty seconds, do the other ear and then have the kid get into the bathtub or shower and the wax will soften and fall out,” said Dr. Rome. 

Experts say that in general, the ear canal is self-cleaning and that it’s usually best to just let nature do its job and to wipe away excess wax when it comes out of the ear on its own.

Complete results of the study can be found in the journal Pediatrics.

If you are a member of the media and would like to be added to our daily health story distribution list, please email us at ccnewsservice@ccf.org.