Don’t use cotton to clean ears: Doctors

BANGALORE: If you thought plugging in a cotton ball into your ear would prevent a common cold or a sore throat, you have truly underestimated the functions and anatomical structure of the ear.

Published: 21st January 2012 05:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:18 PM   |  A+A-

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BANGALORE: If you thought plugging in a cotton ball into your ear would prevent a common cold or a sore throat, you have truly underestimated the functions and anatomical structure of the ear. Breaking the age-old myth, doctors now say that cotton balls does not help the ear and it can only be harmful.

Dr Bathi Reddy, head of the department and consultant, ENT department, Manipal Hospital, told City Express that the use of cotton ball delays the process of wax drying naturally. “Wax accumulation can also prevent epithelial migration, the process of dead skin peeling in the ear. Wax is the natural form of protection the ear produces. It should not be removed using any process, nor should it be disturbed,” says Dr Reddy.

The sensitive eardrum is approximately 2.4 cm from the opening of the ear (see image). The floor of the ear, which is slightly curved protects anything from entering in. “Generally, people store cotton in a packet or a box. The moisture allows formation of fungus in cotton which can, in turn, lead to bacterial or fungal ear infections. Pushing cotton inside the ear can cause aberrations to the sensitive ear skin. We get two to three patients with these complains every week,” Dr Reddy said.

Pushing a cotton ball deep into the ear can also damage the eardrum. “The practice of plugging in a cotton ball is mostly seen only in India, especially among pregnant women who resort to it without any scientific or medical logic behind it. The only time ENT doctors suggest the usage of cotton is either after a surgery or to prevent water from entering the infected area of the ear,” he said.

He added that it is not a healthy sign to put pressure on the outer ear during head massages. “Too much sound from the vibrator can disturb the eardrum,” he said.

Echoing his thoughts is Dr Sanjay Kumar, ENT surgeon, Malathi Manipal Hospital, Jayanagar. “Cotton balls do not help in any way. They are distributed in flights but they cannot play any role in preventing the ear from effects of pressure fluctuation,” he said. He also warns against using ear buds and other ‘tools’ (see box) for cleaning ears, terming it as the most-dangerous habit. “Using an ear bud only pushes the wax further inside  and once it reaches near the ear drum, it gets accumulated there with no exit route” he said.  

Doctors say that the best way to protect the area around the ear is to use a muffler or a shawl. This keeps the ear lobe warm, which is bound to get cold in cold weather.

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