Study: Common hygiene practice sends thousands of kids to the hospital annually

A Nationwide Children's Hospital study says dozens of kids go to the ER everyday for ear injuries related to cotton swabs. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new study out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital says a very common hygiene item sends thousands of kids to the emergency room every year.

Data shows about about 34 kids a day are going to the hospital for ear injuries related to cotton swabs every day. The researchers looked at hospital visits between 1990 and 2010 and discovered that an estimated 260,000 children ended up in the emergency room. Cotton swabs can cause cuts in our ear canals, perforate our eardrums and dislocate our hearing bones. And any of these things could lead to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing or other symptoms of ear injury.

Most of those injuries occurred when children were using the cotton swabs themselves to clean their ears. Also, two out of three children injured were eight years old or younger. Still, doctors say cotton swabs shouldn’t be used in anyone’s ears.

Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health Dr. John Dahl said you shouldn’t worry about cleaning your ear canal at all.

“The ear is self-cleaning structure and the ear, the lining of the ear drum and ear canal actually migrate from the inside out, so when you’re using a q-tip what you’re doing is inhibiting that process and that causes the ear wax to be backed up,” Dr. Dahl said. “So, just wash the outside of the ear, including the opening of the ear canal with soap and water. There’s no need to put a q-tip in, again that pushes the wax in the opposite direction that it should be going and basic hygiene is all you need.”

Doctors say it is normal and healthy to have some wax in your ears. It can be an issue if you have too much. If you’re concerned about that, he says see your doctor.

The study did say that about 99 percent of those treated for ear injuries due to cotton swabs were treated and did not have permanent damage, but there were more severe cases that resulted in permanent hearing loss.

As for irrigators, candles or other home remedies, doctors say the same advice applies to them as cotton swabs, just stay out of the ear.

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