Cotton swabs linked to ruptured eardrums, study shows

A new study has found a direct association between using cotton swabs to clean the ears and ruptured eardrums. The good news is that almost all of the cases of ruptured eardrums healed without surgery, the researchers pointed out.

Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News: “In the past, many otolaryngologists have wondered if surgery is really necessary to treat a ruptured eardrum. The results of this study show that 97 percent of cases healed on their own within two months, proving that most cases do not require surgery,” Dr. Ilaaf Darrat, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Henry Ford Hospital and co-author of the study, said in a hospital news release.

That’s no reason to get complacent about how you clean your ears, however.

More than half of the people who visit ear, throat and nose specialists confess to using swabs — tiny sticks with cotton on the ends — to clean their ears, but the practice can damage the ear if people push them in too far.

A ruptured eardrum is just one unpleasant potential outcome, because that can lead to tinnitus, and in severe cases, to vertigo and facial paralysis.

“If a patient is experiencing symptoms such as hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormality in their facial movements, they should see a doctor immediately to assess the possible ear damage,” Darrat said in the news release.

In the study, the researchers examined the medical records of 1,540 patients who suffered from ruptured eardrums between 2001 and 2010. They found that although most cases healed on their own, some complications — like facial nerve paralysis — required surgery.

As for alternative ways to clean your ears, study co-author Dr. Michael Seidman, director of the division of otologic and neurotologic surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, recommends these methods:

Mix equal amounts of cool peroxide and hot tap water. Allow the mixture to reach body temperature and then irrigate the ear — gently — no more than twice a month.

Another idea is to mix one part plain vinegar and one part water and use four or five drops once a week.

Make an appointment with a doctor to have ear wax removed, or try an over-the-counter treatment to soften the ear wax so it can be flushed out.

The study findings were presented April 29 at the Combined Otolaryngological Spring Meeting in Chicago. Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be considered preliminary.

For more on ear wax blockage, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine here.

7 thoughts on “Cotton swabs linked to ruptured eardrums, study shows

  • Christine

    What about ear candles? I know a lot of people who swear by them, but they have always made me a little nervous.

  • Ed,

    Color me very skeptical about this report. And count me as NO fan of colloidal silver.

    According to the experts, who I trust, at the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, ingesting silver is “LIKELY UNSAFE.” They write, “Total daily silver intake should not exceed 14 mcg/kg/day (980 mcg/day for a 70 kg person). Combining colloidal silver supplements with regular dietary intake of silver would likely result in exceeding this amount of silver. Silver accumulates in the body and can lead to an irreversible bluish skin discoloration known as argyria. Neurological deficits, diffuse silver deposition in visceral organs, renal damage, and metal flume fever can occur. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider colloidal silver products to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS).”

    In addition, as to the effectiveness of ingesting silver for ANY indication, the NMCD says, “There is insufficient reliable information available about the effectiveness of colloidal silver.”

    By the way, my first novel, “The Gabon Virus,” has a character, the “Blue Monk,” who was poisoned with silver. Also, my second novel, “The Influenza Bomb,” creates a scenario where the Spanish Flu of 1918 is recreated and weaponized. You can get signed copies here.

    Dr. Walt

  • Dave,

    The study is not yet published, and the abstract was not made available on the meeting Web site. However, in the Henry Ford Hospital news release, they said:

    The Henry Ford study included 1,540 patients with a diagnosis of TMP from 2001-2010. Patients with a cotton swab injury were subdivided into two groups: observation and surgery. Successful outcomes were defined as healed TMP, resolution or improvement of vertigo, tinnitus or facial nerve paralysis, and/or closure of the air-bone gap.

    A general rule of thumb I’ve used is that each admission at a tertiary care center represents about 1000 office visits in a primary care office. If that’s accurate, then these 1,540 patients would represent 1,540,000 office visits.

    If you find a study showing the actual incidence, let me know.

    Hope all is well.

    Walt

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