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Pile of cotton swabs

Stop cleaning your kids’ ears with cotton swabs

When parents see wax in their children’s ears, their instinct is to remove it, usually with cotton-tip swabs (such as Q-tips). What parents don’t realize, however, is how much harm cotton-tip applicators can do.

In fact, The Journal of Pediatrics recently released a study concluding that cotton-tip swabs send dozens of kids across the country to the emergency room every day.

While we do see a number of traumatic ear injuries in the emergency room at Children’s Wisconsin, we also see patients visit our primary clinics for injuries or abrasions to the ear canal.

Ear wax is normal

I always emphasize to families that earwax is normal and has a purpose. For instance, wax catches dust and debris, and it helps prevent germs from getting into the ears.

Parents see the wax and want it out, but they should know it’s okay that it’s there.

When wax becomes problematic

In rare cases, kids’ ears do make excess earwax that can interfere with hearing or cause pain or discomfort. Parents should not try to remove it on their own using cotton-tip applicators due to the risk of damaging the ear canal and, possibly, their child’s hearing. Instead, splash some water in their ears during bathtime to help loosen it.

If the problem persists, contact your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician can determine whether that earwax should be removed and if there could be other issues causing the symptoms.