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Never Use Q-Tips to Clean Your Child’s Ears

1:45

Parents and caregivers seem compelled to clean their child’s ears with a cotton swab. Despite repeated warnings to not put anything smaller than one’s elbow inside a child’s ear, more than 263,000 U.S. children had to be treated in emergency rooms for ear injuries related to cotton-tip applicators between 1990 and 2010, according to a new study.

Almost three-quarters of the cases — 73 percent — involved ear cleaning. About two-thirds of the patients in the study were younger than 8.

"There's this misconception that people need to clean their ears in the home setting and that this is the product to do that with," Dr. Kris Jatana, senior author of the study and a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told TODAY.

"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."

The most common incident in the ER was the presence of a foreign body, such as part of the cotton swab and a perforated eardrum, researchers said.

"It's difficult for people to gauge how deep they're putting [the swab]," Jatana said. "Sometimes, it just takes a small movement to puncture the ear drum."

Physicians specializing in ear and throat diseases say that Q-tips and similar products should never be used for cleaning the ears. Not only can they cause ear canal injuries, but can also push ear wax deeper into the canal causing it to become trapped.

Studies have found 90 percent of people believe ears should be cleaned and say they regularly clean their ears or their children’s ears, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. Kids also apparently learn to stick Q-tips into their ears by watching their parents: about 77 percent of the injuries in the study happened when the child was handling the swab himself.

If you see earwax on the outer part of your child’s ear, you can clean it with a washcloth or wipe, Jatana suggests. In most cases, earwax is actually beneficial for the ear. It protects, lubricates and cleans the ear canal. Occasionally, children and adults have excessive wax build-up, but a doctor should be consulted about removal.

Hearing loss, a feeling of fullness in the ear or ear pain are symptoms that should be checked out. An ear, nose and throat doctor can remove more stubborn excess wax.

Story source, A. Pawlowski, http://www.today.com/health/cotton-swabs-are-causing-ear-injuries-thousands-kids-t111296

 

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