FRIDAY, March 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Cotton swabs might seem like handy tools for clearing wax from children's ears, but they just might do more harm than good.
In fact, each year roughly 12,540 injuries to children's ears stem from the use of cotton swabs, according to a study cited by Dr. Jay Shah, who specializes in conditions that affect children's ears, nose and throat. He's a pediatric otolaryngologist with Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, part of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio.
The study analyzed more than two decades of data from U.S. emergency department and doctor visits that involved children's ear injuries related to cotton swab use.
Younger children are at higher risk for such injuries, the study found. Nearly 70 percent of the injuries were to children younger than 8 years old, and 40 percent were 3 years old or younger.
In most cases, the kids were trying to clean their own ears but instead caused damage, the study found. The damage included bleeding, pain, hearing loss and dizziness.
Cotton swabs can also cause earwax to become jammed or stuck in the ear, causing ringing in the ears, trouble hearing, itching and discomfort.
Having wax in your ears is normal and natural, according to Shah.
"Your body produces earwax as a way to clean the ear canal, as well as lubricate it and protect it from bacteria," he said in a hospital news release. "In general, ear canals do not need to be cleaned unless earwax starts building up near the outside of the ear. Even then, a damp cloth will usually do the trick."
If a cloth doesn't seem to be working, he said that other safe methods parents could try include earwax removal drops or baby oil.
"Please never use cotton swabs to clean the ears," he said. "Please leave it to a health professional to clean earwax if needed."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has information on ear injuries.
SOURCE: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, news release, Feb. 21, 2018