Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Use Q-Tips in Your Ears

May 7, 2019 Updated: May 7, 2019

A 31-year-old man ended up in the emergency room after he collapsed after suffering a seizure. Doctors found that he had a Q-tib, or cotton swab, stuck in his ear canal.

According to the medical journal BMJ Case Reports, the tip of the Q-tip got stuck in the English man’s ear. The man said he had pain in his ear and hearing loss over a five-year period, reported Live Science.

However, he suffered more pain, discharge from the ear, memory issues, and headaches on the left side of his head leading to vomiting, the report said.

The unnamed man later suffered a seizure and collapsed before he was admitted to a hospital in Coventry, England, noted Yahoo News.

After a CT scan, “a retained cotton bud was” discovered in his ear canal, an abstract of the study said.

“The man developed a severe bacterial infection [necrotizing otitis externa] that started in his ear canal, progressed into the bone at the base of his skull, and then moved upward, into the lining of his brain,” Live Science reported.

Alexander Charlton, the lead author of the study who treated the man, said he believes that toxins from a bacterial infection or pressure from swelling triggered a seizure and temporary memory loss, according to Live Science.

The infection, however, didn’t enter the man’s brain, but it still caused neurological problems.

Experts: Don’t Use Q-Tips

Dr. Desmond A. Nunez, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, called on people to not use Q-tips.

“This [infection] would be more commonly associated with a disease state where the individual’s immune status is compromised,” Nunez told Yahoo News. “But never say never in medicine.”

He added: “You shouldn’t be putting instruments anywhere you can’t see. As a surgeon, that’s a big no-no; you should be able to see wherever you’re putting your instrument; It’s a pretty elementary rule. Otherwise how do you know what you’re doing? You’re asking for trouble.”

Even though Q-tips are ubiquitous in bathrooms, experts have said that people shouldn’t stick anything “smaller than your elbow” in your ear.

“The main danger of putting things inside your ear is you can’t see what you’re doing, and could potentially cause significant harm,” Dr. David Stutz, with the University of Michigan, said on its website.

“You can not only irritate, scratch and cut the ear canal, but you can also damage the eardrum, and render your efforts unsuccessful by pushing whatever wax has built up even deeper down the ear. People don’t realize the wax they see on a Q-tip would have come out anyway because the ear cleans itself,” he added.

It’s fine to wipe away ear wax from the outer portion of the ear with a tissue or washcloth, said Dr. Seth Schwartz, with the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, according to Today.com.

“People think of wax as being unhealthy, like they don’t want wax in their ears,” Schwartz told the outlet. “But ear wax is actually a healthy part of the ear, it’s the natural substance that occurs from the body’s self-cleaning mechanism. The body is sweeping away dead skin and debris from the ear canal and it will migrate out.”

Between 1990 and 2010, more than 263,000 children were treated in emergency rooms across the United States for ear injuries related to Q-tips.

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