You’ve probably heard the warning before: Don’t use cotton swabs to clean out your ears! Followers of this rule claim that using a cotton swab can seriously damage your ears and just push wax farther into your ear canal, causing even worse issues.
Despite this bit of wisdom, people still use them and manufacturers keep making them.
BMJ Journal recently published “Cotton bud in external ear canal causing necrotising otitis externa and subdural abscess” by Alexander Charlton, Noor Janjua and Darius Rejali.
It is a case study of one poor gentleman who did not heed the no-cotton-buds advice and opted to go digging around in his ear with one.
Cotton swab went in: Cotton swab did not come out. Not entirely, anyway, and instead of alleviating his ear issues the unnamed 31-year-old from England only exacerbated them.
He’s not exactly sure on which occasion this happened, but at some point, he began to experience a range of symptoms, including loss of hearing, pain and ear infections — but only in his left ear.
This went on for five years. Things eventually went from bad to worse, and the headaches turned into major ear pain and discharge in addition to the man throwing up from intense headaches and not being able to recall people’s names.
Doctors found abscesses and infection near the base of the skull. The infection had spread through his ear canal to the bone and part of the lining of his brain — but not yet to his brain, thankfully.
While performing surgery, doctors discovered the cotton swab tip buried in his ear. It was so surrounded by wax and other material that they surmised it had been there a while.
After doctors removed the foreign object, cleaned the patient up and got him on antibiotics, the man was able to heal up without any negative, lasting effects.
It took him two months, but he was left without any of the symptoms he’d been experiencing before.
While cases like this are admittedly rare, perhaps it is best to leave ear cleaning to the professionals.
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