Cotton swabs should not be used to clean out children’s ears because the swabs could land kids in the emergency room, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio used data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System involving emergency department visits at 100 hospitals across the nation. They specifically looked at ear injuries involving cotton swabs, cotton-tipped swabs, or Q-tips, the common brand-name swab. Researchers then adjusted the data to estimate the numbers for the other 5,300 hospitals across the country to provide a representation of what the data might look like for all hospitals in the country.
They found that from 1990 to 2010, more than 263,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. involved ear-cleaning injuries in children. In other words, about 34 emergency room visits each day are caused by cotton swab-related ear injuries in children.
The symptom that most often brought patients to the ER was ear bleeding, generally caused by a ruptured ear drum. The second most common complaint was foreign object syndrome, a condition in which the patient feels there is something stuck in an orifice when there is nothing there.
Most ear swab injuries resulting in ER visits occurred in 2-year-olds. The number of ER visits for ear cleaning injuries typically dropped as kids got older.
Most often, kids caused their own injuries trying to clean out their ears themselves with cotton swabs. But parents were also to blame. Siblings were also guilty of inflicting this injury on their brothers or sisters, but this was less often the case.
The Nationwide Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study said in a statement that ear cleaning is unnecessary as ear canals are typically self-cleaning. Using cotton-tipped applicators to clean out ears only pushes wax closer to the eardrum.