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Cotton Swabs Sending Children To The Doctor


You may not feel clean unless you swipe your ears with a cotton swab, but remember: You're setting a poor example for your children.


That's because more than 263,300 U.S. children visited hospital emergency rooms between 1990 and 2010 with cotton swab-related ear injuries, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.


Nearly 77 percent of these injuries came from kids using the cotton swab themselves, and more than 73 percent of injuries arose from ear-cleaning efforts.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation pointed to studies indicating that 90 percent of people typically use cotton swabs to clean their ears or their children's ears, Today reports.


The truth is doctors don't like when folks clean their ears with cotton swabs. Doing so could do more harm than good, like potentially perforating your eardrum and damaging your hearing bones and inner ear, not to mention triggering hearing loss, deafness and vertigo, Seattle-based neurotologist Dr. Seth Schwartz told U.S. News earlier this year.


"The ears themselves are typically 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," study author Dr. Kris Jatana of Nationwide Children's Hospital told Today.


All told, there wasn't a significant increase in injuries from 1990 to 2001, though there was a significant 26 percent decrease from 2001 to 2010. Still, in 2010 alone, more than 12,000 children were treated for these injuries.


But if you just can't take it anymore and need to evacuate that wax, there's hope.


"If the wax is stuck deeper in, wax-softening drops can be quite effective," Schwartz said. "If that doesn't work, there are some gentle home irrigating devices. If that is unsuccessful, then they should see a doctor for an evaluation and cleaning … The symptoms are not always from ear wax. Many people with new-onset hearing loss think it is just wax until they find out it isn't."


If parents are still interested in cleaning their children's ears, there are products on the market specifically designed for children. The study authors encourage caution.


"Many [cotton-tip applicator] manufacturers include warning labels on their packages; however, to our knowledge, this is not a mandatory warning, and it is insufficient to prevent injuries," according to the authors.  "A stronger warning label including an easily visible pictogram of an ear with a red circle and line across it may be more effective than words alone."

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