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Everyone puts Q-tips in their ears, but otolaryngologists warn that they should not. Here are ten tips about Q-tips to help you avoid injury.

There are many objects of modern commerce that have applications other than their intended use. As an author, I'm not especially happy to see my book used as a doorstop, but it's not just books that are frequently repurposed. Coffee cups double as paper weights. Newspapers, if you remember what they are, can be used for starting fires. Coffee tables are used as leg rests. Alka-Seltzer becomes a diet drink. Duct tape is used for, well, everything.

It's relatively rare, however, for the main use of an object to be precisely something the manufacturer warns against, as is the case with the use of Q-tips for cleaning the ear canal.

Most People Ignore Warnings About How to Use Q-Tips

The manufacturers of Q-tips intend for their products to be profoundly versatile, useful, inexpensive objects. Here are just a few of the legitimate uses of Q-tips (weighted toward uses popular with women):

  • Use a Q-tip to apply just a touch of color to the roots of your hair between dye jobs.
  • Outline your lips with translucent powder after applying lipstick to keep the color from running.
  • Remove small stains in fabrics and upholstery by applying hydrogen peroxide and baking soda with a Q-tip.
  • Clean the lint out your hair dryer vents.
  • Fix a stuck zipper by applying a dab of shampoo with a Q-tip.
  • Use two Q-tips to gently squeeze a whitehead or blackhead.
  • Apply eyelash glue with the tip of a Q-tip.
  • Coat the tips of Q-tips with your favorite eye shadow shades, and pack them in a plastic bag to save space in your suitcase.
  • Give children Q-tips to use as paintbrushes if their fingers are too small to hold the real thing.
  • Apply glue to arts and crafts with a Q-tip.
  • When you don't have time to give your baby a bath, use a moistened Q-tip to remove grime and debris from folds of baby's skin.
  • Use Q-tips to apply wood stain to conceal scratches on floors.
  • Remove dust from scroll work and statues with Q-tips.

Those are just a few of the sanctioned uses of Q-tips. Most of us, however, use Q-tips for something else. We use them to clean our ears.

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Use Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears

There actually is a way to use Q-tips to clean your ears that Q-tip makers and otolayrngologists (ear doctors) alike approve. The basic principle is very simple:

Use Q-tips to clean the outside of your ear, not your ear canal.

It's OK to apply a Q-tip to the helix, scapha, and triangular fossa, the curved parts of the outside of your ear. Even when working on the outside of your ear, you need to be gentle, but there is very little danger of injuring yourself as long as you keep the Q-tip out of your ear canal. 

With a warning on the box and the 100 percent certainty of a stern lecture from the doctor if you run into problems after inserting a Q-tip into your ear canal, why do people ignore doctor's advice? The answer is simple. Sticking a Q-tip up your ear feels good. Tickling your inner ear induces intense pleasure.

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