Newswise — As a child, you were probably told to clean inside your ears. But one common cleaning method – scrubbing inside the ear with a cotton swab – could be doing more harm than good.

Child ear injuries by the numbers

A recent study looked at emergency room and doctor’s office visits to treat ear injuries related to cotton swabs among children between 1990 and 2010. During that time, there were more than 263,000 of these injuries – about 12,540 every year.

Younger children were injured more often – 67 percent of all patients were younger than age 8. About 40 percent were age 3 or younger. Most of the injuries occurred while using a cotton swab to clean inside one’s own ears. Injury types included bleeding, ear pain, hearing loss and dizziness.

Control earwax without swabs

Earwax is perfectly natural. Jay Shah, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s, said, “Your body produces earwax as a way to clean the ear canal, as well as lubricate it and protect it from bacteria.”

Dr. Shah advised, “In general, ear canals do not need to be cleaned unless earwax starts building up near the outside of the ear. Even then, a damp cloth will usually do the trick.”

Using a cotton swab to clean inside the ear can lead to impacted earwax, which can cause:

  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Rarely, trauma to the eardrum

“If you’re worried about earwax building up inside the ear, try other options, such as earwax removal drops or baby oil, which can be performed at home. Please never use cotton swabs to clean the ears. Please leave it to a health professional to clean earwax if needed,” said Dr. Shah.

About University Hospitals / Cleveland, Ohio

Founded in 1866, University Hospitals serves the needs of patients through an integrated network of 18 hospitals, more than 40 outpatient health centers and 200 physician offices in 15 counties throughout northern Ohio. The system’s flagship academic medical center, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, located on a 35-acre campus in Cleveland’s University Circle, is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The main campus also includes University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation; University Hospitals MacDonald Women's Hospital, Ohio's only hospital for women; and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, part of the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. UH is home to some of the most prestigious clinical and research programs in the nation, including cancer, pediatrics, women's health, orthopedics, radiology, neuroscience, cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, digestive health, transplantation and urology. UH Cleveland Medical Center is perennially among the highest performers in national ranking surveys, including “America’s Best Hospitals” from U.S. News & World Report. UH is also home to Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals – part of The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development. UH is one of the largest employers in Northeast Ohio with 26,000 employees. UH’s vision is “Advancing the science of health and the art of compassion,” and its mission: “To Heal. To Teach. To Discover.” Follow UH on Facebook @UniversityHospitals and Twitter @UHhospitals. For more information, go to