4 April 2019

Kenya: Why You Should Stop Using Cotton Buds to Clean Your Ears

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Do you use cotton ear buds to clean your ears? Well, you you should stop right away! Cotton earbuds are a common consumer item in many homes, used to clean the inside of our ears, including those of children.

However, doctors advise against the practice, saying it could harm the eardrum, leading to damage or wax piling up on the eardrum, which could cause pain and discomfort.

Dr Wahome Karanja, who is an ear, nose and throat specialist and a rhinology and skull base surgeon at Prodigy ENT Clinic, says the practice is not recommended as it could actually harm our ears.

"Using buds to clean the ear canal will not really remove wax but push some of it down the can so that it impacts on the ear drum. This condition, which is often painful and uncomfortable, is called wax or cerumen impaction where wax is deposited on the eardrum," said Dr Karanja.

INFECTION

Dr Karanja says the function of wax or cerumen is to protect the ears from damage and infection.

"Wax in our ears plays the important role of protecting them from infection and damage. It has antibacterial properties to help in protecting the ear, and traps dust and dirt in the ear canal. In the process, wax stops these potentially harmful foreign bodies from reaching the more delicate eardrum," Dre Karanja told Nairobi News.

The doctor said the ear has a self-cleaning mechanism that ensures that wax is pushed out of the middle ear into the outer ear after it has dried up.

"After drying up, it then falls off on its own," he said.

Dr Karanja said the ear is divided into three parts, namely the outer, middle and inner ear, with the tympanic membrane or eardrum acting as a barrier between the outer and the middle ear.

The expert said the eardrum separates the outer and middle area and acts as a barrier between the external and middle ear.

OUTER EAR

"The eardrum is a thin layer of tissue that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It works by vibrating in response to percussion from compression waves, or sound waves that are characterized by a compression or pushing of the air molecules," he said.

"The ear also has hair on the outer canal known as terminal ear hair. This hair works together with your body's natural earwax to form a protective barrier. It helps to prevent germs, bacteria, and debris from getting inside your inner ear and causing potential damage," says Dr Karanja.

He warns against the practice of sticking cotton buds down the ear, saying extreme cases could actually lead to the puncturing of the delicate part.

"Depending on the depth of the ear canal, you could go too far and puncture the eardrum. This will put the ear at risk of infection. It could also cause reduced or poor hearing since sound waves get bounced against the eardrum in order for us to experience hearing," he said.

Dr Karanja said people should only use a soft cloth or towel to clean the wax from the outer part of the pinna or outer ear.

"No one should stick anything smaller than an elbow into the inner ear. In other words, keep all foreign objects out of the ear canal, and away from the eardrum," he said.

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