There have been plenty of horror stories over the years when it comes to people using cotton buds, also known as cotton tips, to clean the wax from their ears and an alarming new report published in the British Medical Journal has highlighted why the swabs should never be inserted into the ear canal to remove the yellow substance.
According to the report, a “healthy” 31-year-old began suffering seizures, aches in his left ear and discharge from his ear. Upon brain imaging, health professionals discovered a retained cotton bud in the man’s left external auditory canal and osseocartilaginous junction – where the cartilage and bony part of the external ear canal meet.
He suffered an infection called Necrotising otitis externa – known to severely infect the external auditory canal and skull base. It can occur in elderly patients with diabetes or immunodeficiency, but hadn’t been caused by a foreign body in the external auditory canal before.
According to CTV News, the piece of cotton became lodged in the British man’s ear and remained there for five years until it was removed by health professionals. In addition to his ear ache, discharge and seizures, the man also experienced headaches, nausea and vomiting in the days before he presented to the emergency department in Coventry, England.
He had experienced infrequent ear pain and hearing loss for five years, but began noticing memory problems in the days before he arrived at hospital. The man had also been prescribed two courses of oral antibiotics for what his GP thought was a severe ear infection.
When doctors eventually operated on the man, CTV News reports they found the cotton swab surrounded by wax. After 10 weeks, the patient was recovering and hadn’t sustained any neurological deficits or residual ear symptoms when he completed his course of antibiotics. The report also states that the man no longer uses the cotton tips to clean his ears.
Read more: Six clever ways to use cotton buds
While many believe believe it’s disgusting and needs to be removed, ear wax or cerumen is the ear canal’s way of cleaning itself, according to Better Health Victoria, . It is typically water resistant, sticky to trap dust and appears in the ear canal when the ear is cleaning itself.
While it is possible for wax to build up over time and cause symptoms including tinnitus, mild deafness and earache, it can be easily treated. Doctors may use an ear syringe to prompt wax to float out of the ear, while forceps or suction devices can be used in some cases.
Cotton buds, fingers and other objects poked into the ear can cause the wax to become compacted and it’s instead better to use wax-softening drops or oil twice a week. Cleaning should also be kept to the outer ear.
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