What a Waste! Cotton Tip Applicators Injure 34 Kids Per Day

CC BY-SA 2.0. Will Culpepper

Is your family still throwing away a couple cotton-tipped swabs a day as part of the daily ear wax hygiene program? Now's the time to stop.

If you are like many people, you have heard that using cotton swabs to clean ears can be dangerous and at best may push ear wax deeper, compacting it rather than cleaning it. But you still have a mega-size package of the swabs slowly dwindling off of your bathroom shelf. One can know this merely by looking at the super-stores where these swabs are sold in packages of a hundred, or more.

Of course, these cotton-tipped applicators, commonly known by the brand name Q-tips, have many other uses, including medical and craft applications with benefits that may justify the relatively small waste impact - especially if you take care to buy the biodegradable, sustainably sourced types. But they fit so nicely right into the ear canal, that many people use them routinely for their ears.

A new study by Nationwide Children's Hospital examined the number of emergency room visits for cotton-swab related ear injuries. They found that an astounding 263,000 children under 18 years old were treated between 1990 and 2010 -- that's 34 children injured every day! According to the study,

"the most common injuries were foreign body sensation (30%), perforated ear drum (25%) and soft tissue injury (23%). Foreign body sensation was the most common diagnosis among children aged 8-17 years, while perforated ear drum was the most common among children younger than 8 years of age."

Ear wax is every bit as natural as cotton swabs are unnatural. It protects the ear and then drains on its own. The only cleaning needed heeds age-old advice: don't forget to wash behind your ears. Swishing a bit of warm water around the lobe and behind the ear will remove any of the waxy substance that has made its way safely out of your ear to make way for fresher protective goo. If you really believe this process has failed, then talk to a doctor: if wax should be removed, they have the tools to do it without injury.

Quitting the ear-swabbing habit leaves one less waste product in your bathroom, and much safer ears that can enjoy the soothing voice of a loved one, the evocative words of a bedtime story or love poem, and the sound a tree doesn't make when it falls in a forest near someone who has lost this precious ability to hear.