Tips&TricksCommon cotton swab misuse could lead to hearing loss: The true story behind their invention

Common cotton swab misuse could lead to hearing loss: The true story behind their invention

Cosmetic sticks are being used in the wrong way.
Cosmetic sticks are being used in the wrong way.
Images source: © Brilliant

11:33 AM EST, January 28, 2024, updated: 4:44 AM EST, March 7, 2024

Despite everyone having them readily available, few know the correct way to use them. These humble sticks, topped with a cotton tip, while primarily used for hygiene, can also serve effectively in makeup application and cleaning tasks. Pushing them into the ear canal, however, constitutes the worst possible misuse, with the risk of causing hearing loss! To mitigate this risk, we provide information to clarify their effective and safe utilization.

The ingenuity of the cotton swab

Originally, cotton swabs were not associated with ear hygiene. The invention of this product is credited to Leo Gerstenzang, a Polish Jewish man who aimed to simplify his wife's life. She frequently complained about the difficulty in cleaning out-of-reach surfaces, which led her to twist cotton around the ends of sticks. This idea inspired Gerstenzang to create an innovative product — the first cotton swabs. His creation skyrocketed in popularity and became a global sensation!

Cotton swabs were initially designed for cleaning hard-to-reach areas, not for body hygiene. As the design evolved over time, people started using them in cosmetics, skincare, and eventually for ear cleaning. It's a common misinformation to insert the swab into the ear canal, whereas in reality, this practice can cause more harm than good. If not careful, such misuse can even lead to hearing loss!

The unsuitability of cotton swabs for ear cleaning

The round design of cotton swabs may suggest they are the perfect tool for removing excess earwax. However, this is a harmful myth. Misusing cotton swabs in this manner can pose a substantial risk. Why? Instead of removing the dirt, the swab pushes it further into the ear canal. Additionally, if we insert it too deep, we risk damaging sensitive tissues causing severe pain. An accumulation of earwax can lead to severe inflammation, tinnitus, or partial hearing loss.

So what is the safe way to clean our ears? You can rely on special products available at any drugstore. These products come in the form of an aerosol that dissolves the earwax and soothes any irritation when sprayed into the ear. The cost is just a few dollars and lasts several months. It's certainly worthwhile to invest in such a product to address accumulated earwax. In the meantime, use cotton swabs to clean the external part of the ear. It's best to leave the ear canal undisturbed.

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