In the process of moving to a new state, I told my friends the first thing I bought when I got settled was a package of Q-Tips because I cannot stand the feeling of a wet inner-ear after I shower. One of them stopped me mid-sentence to tell me to stop using the wonderful cleansing tool forever, and why? Because, rumor has it, Q-Tips are actually bad for your ears. Trust me, I was just as appalled as you are, so I decided to do some more research.
The argument my friend gave me was that the Q-Tip actually pushes the gunk back further into your ear canal instead of catching the particles on the soft, cotton end. My friend is no doctor (though, he is pre-med) so I wanted to explore his rather outlandish claim further.
Sure, I've heard of the candlestick ear cleaning process and yes, I've had my ears washed out by my doctor, but those techniques aren't exactly practical for everyday use. As much as I would love it, I can't light a candle in my ear after every shower, nor do I have a doctor on hand to rid my ear of "gunk," as I choose to refer to ear wax (makes you want to reach for a Q-Tip right now, doesn't it?)
Douglas Backous M.D. told The Huffington Post that earwax is actually there for protection. According to Backous, it helps keeps dirt and dust away from the eardrum and essentially allows the ear to "clean itself." According to Dr. Stephen Rothstein, an ear, nose, and throat doctor at NYU Medical Center, earwax only becomes a problem when it hardens in the ear canal, thus causing a blockage.
Aesthetician Joanna Vargas told Into the Gloss that a Q-Tip can be harmful, if used improperly. Picture Hannah's eardrum burst on Girls. Using it improperly, as Backous explains, does indeed mean pushing the earwax back further in the ear, getting it stuck in the areas that don't clean itself and causing fungus or ear viruses.
The best method for cleaning your ears is up for debate. Backous recommends stopping cleaning your ears completely. He acknowledged the human (read: my) need to clean out ears, but says by doing so, we've created an "itch and scratch cycle." Backous said that if you feel the need to continue using Q-Tips, use them around the outer part of your canal without actually entering the canal.
Rothstein also advised stopping any at-home ear cleaning method entirely and only consulting a doctor to clean the ear.
If you absolutely do feel the need to continue to clean out your ears all by yourself, Backours recommends adding a few drops of a DIY mixture of white vinegar, tap water, and rubbing alcohol into each ear.
Also, please note that I could not keep my fingernail out of my ear while writing this piece.
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