Anyone who has heard that Q-Tips are dangerous and just brushed it off as a scare tactic from Big Earwax or as an old wives tale should take this new info to heart: An article published in the Journal of Pediatrics states that cotton-tipped applicators, aka cotton swabs, aka Q-Tips (not Q-Tip, member of A Tribe Called Quest, though), send dozens of children to the emergency room every single day.
The doctors and researchers explain that in the 1920s, cotton-tipped applicators were commonly used to clean babies' ears, but that even way back then, injuries were common. Somehow, nobody heeded the warnings, because people still use them today. The team used data culled from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database that scans data from U.S. emergency departments, to filter out Q-Tip related injuries. The doctors found that "263,338 children under age 18 were seen at U.S. emergency departments between 1990 and 2010."
"It highlights the misconception that adults and children need to clean the ear canal in the home setting," senior author Dr. Kris Jatana, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, told Reuters. "While cotton-tipped applicators may seem harmless, there are certainly a lot of potential risks to using them to clean the ears."
The article states that 40% of emergency room visits were due to something being stuck in the child's ears. Another 35% were attributed to bleeding and 17% were due to ear pain. After their examinations, doctors diagnosed 25% of the kids with ruptured eardrums and 30% of the patients with a foreign body stuck in their ears.
"We've learned over the years that it's not a safe practice to insert this product into ears," Jatana told Reuters.
Dr. Cuneyt Alper, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist that was not involved in the study, adds that specialists wouldn't use cotton-tipped applicators to clean ears. In fact, Alper adds that Q-Tips generally just push earwax deeper. He recommends using a cotton ball to clean any visible wax. Ear canals are self-cleaning, unless wax has been impacted. For kids, that means that soapy water and a washcloth are sufficient.
As for Q-Tips, keep them out of ears.