Anyone who has watched Girls knows how dangerous using Q-tips can be (for those who haven't seen the show, Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, once punctured her own eardrum using a swab to clean her ear). However, most of us see situations like this as simply anecdotal, and unabashedly continue using cotton swabs on our own inner ears. But an article recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics dispels the myth that Q-tips are harmless with some pretty shocking data, including the fact that cotton swabs send dozens of children to the emergency room every single day.
The article uses data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 1990 to 2010. Researchers found that over that 20-year time period, an estimated 263,338 children (folks under the age of 18) were treated in emergency rooms for ear injuries related to cotton swabs. That's an average of 36 kids per day. The majority — 76.9 percent — of these kids had been using the Q-tips themselves. What's, 25 percent of them were diagnosed with ruptured eardrums, which can be extraordinarily painful.
The thing is, it's a misconception that we need to clean out inner-ear wax at all, as the ear is self-cleaning. As Alyssa Hackett, M.D, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Mount Sinai Health System, told Reuters, "More commonly, the wax is pushed deep into the ear canal instead of removed by the cotton swab which can cause a temporary hearing loss similar to the feeling of having an ear plug in the ear." It's better to focus on visible wax, which can easily be removed with a washcloth or a cotton ball — no insertion required. Given what we now know, we're better off using Q-tips for beauty hacks than for our inner ears.
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