The reason cotton swabs are horrible for cleaning your ears

If you grew up believing the best way to clean your ears was with a cotton swab, you're not alone — but guess what? You're wrong.

It seems that we've all been tricked. According to otolaryngologist Mike Dilkes (via The Guardian), "Ears are self-cleaning." Not only do we not need to worry about cleaning our ears with cotton swabs, we don't need to worry about cleaning them at all. In fact, cotton swabs may actually be causing more damage than good. 

"Wax is good stuff,"  Professor Tony Wright of the UCL Ear Institute told The Guardian. "It's protective. It's sticky, it stops things crawling in, it's waterproof, antibacterial and antifungal." Basically, there's absolutely no reason that we should be removing it from our ears.

Cotton swabs push wax further into the ear

Speaking with CNN, James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, notes, "For those with impacted ear wax, the use of cotton-tipped swabs may push the earwax deeper into the ear canal and harm the eardrum." 

Worse still, the 2017 Clinical Practice Guideline Update on Earwax by the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery Foundation notes that there is further danger possible when you use cotton swabs in your ear, as those cute little "harmless" cotton buds at the end could come off, become lodged in your ear canal, and require removal by a doctor. It's not just cotton swabs that can cause issues, either. Hairpins, paperclips, or essentially anything smaller than an elbow can cause cuts, infection, or a multitude of other ear injuries.

Ultimately, when it comes to your ears and earwax, you should let nature run its course. Clean the outside of your ear as much as you want, but resist the urge to insert anything inside the ear canal — especially not a cotton swab. 

If you do have wax build-up, though, you should be seeing a doctor or a medical professional — don't deal with it yourself.