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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.

The reason using a Q-tip feels so good is that the inside of the ear is densely lined with nerve endings. Activating the nerves inside your ear can send pleasure signals to other parts of your body. The more you dig into your ear with a Q-tip, however, the more your irritate the ear canal. The more you irritate your ear canal, the more it itches, and the more you "scratch" it with a Q-tip, which feels so good. Q-tips can become quite literally addicting, but before you put that Q-tip into your ear, here are 10 things you need to know.

  1. Fifty percent of patients at otolaryngologist (ear doctor) offices come in after they have put Q-tips i their ears.
  2. Because the Q-tip can be used to collect samples of ear wax for laboratory examination, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates it as a medical advice. Problems with Q-tips have to be reported to the FDA, but the FDA does not keep an easily accessible record of them.

  1. Sticking a Q-tip too far into the ear canal can cause a perforated or ruptured eardrum. Perforating the ear drum may not  cause eardrum pain unless the eardrum becomes infected. Even without pain, however, a perforated ear drum can result in hearing loss that isn't brought to the attention of a doctor until it is too late.
  2. We're told that ear wax is ugly and dirty, but our ears make it for a reason. Ear wax protects the lining of the ear from infection. Removing wax dries out the lining of the ear, causing tiny cracks that can let bacteria inside.
  3. Q-tips don't really remove most wax from the ears. They push it farther inside. Impacted wax can interfere with hearing, and it may be necessary to go to a doctor to remove it. The otolaryngologist may have to use suction or irrigation to get the wax out.
  4. If you really have a problem with ear wax, you probably need to use ear drops that break it up. There's very little difference in the effectiveness of the various brands of ear drops. Just be sure that anything you put inside your ear is sterile. Don't let the tip of the applicator touch your ear, and don't use an applicator that has touched someone else's ear, especially if they have had an ear infection.
  5. Some kinds of facial surgery can leave nerves exposed. If you have had facial surgery, you need to be very careful to avoid using Q-tips to avoid nerve injury.
  6. Olive oil can remove ear wax. Don't pour olive oil into the ear. A drop or two should be enough.
  7. The cotton swab at the end of the wooden or plastic stick can come off inside your ear. If you do, despite advice, use a Q-tip inside your ear, take a quick look at it before you throw it away to make sure the tip of the Q-tip has not come off. Leaving cotton inside your ear can interfere with your hearing, and cause pain and infection. Only a doctor can remove it.
  1. Using a Q-tip to remove water after swimming can drive water further down the ear canal. If the swab or the stick perforates the ear drum, then any microorganisms in the water have an easy path into it to cause infection.

There's one other tip about Q-tips users need to know. There's a movement to ban them. The sooner you get used to other methods of keeping your ears clean, the less traumatic it will be when you can't find Q-tips in your local store.

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