What are Q-tips?

Q-tips are a type of cotton bud made with 100% non-sterile pure cotton. According to the manufacturer's website, Q-tips are made of all-natural materials, unlike many other cotton bud brands. Another way the manufacturer tries to set itself apart from its competitors is by sourcing the bonded paper and paperboard from sustainable forests to make the applicators.

The history of cotton buds


Leo Gerstenzang was a Polish-born American inventor who, in 1923, invented the very first cotton bud. He stumbled upon the idea by witnessing his wife applying cotton wads to the end of a toothpick to help her clean some hard-to-reach spaces. 
 
Inspired by his invention, ear buds today are essentially short sticks with a small ball of cotton wrapped around one or both ends, usually made of wood, rolled paper, or sometimes even plastic. 
What are Q-tips supposed to be used for?
 
There are a plethora of potential uses that make cotton buds the ultimate home and beauty tool. Thanks to their versatility, pure cotton buds fit wonderfully into your daily beauty, first aid, and cleaning routines. From perfecting your lipstick application, removing eye-shadow to getting between the keys of your keyboard, you can rely on Q-tips to get the job done. 
 
What are Q-tips actually used for? 
 
The most common use for ear buds and cotton buds is ear cleaning. Some people are addicted to the feeling of using a Q-tip to get accumulated earwax out of the ear canal. Most are unaware that although sticking Q-tips inside the ear is the most common use, neither manufacturers nor medical experts recommend it. 
 
How are Q-tips bad for your ears? 
 
Before diving into why cleaning your ears with Q-tips is simply a bad idea, it is important to understand the role of earwax. The purpose of earwax is quite simple. It is to keep your ear canal clean. While too much earwax can be troublesome, most earwax is actually protective for the ear canal, keeps dust and dirt away from the eardrum, and provides antibacterial and lubricating benefits.
Although Q-tips have become the preferred way to clean wax out of the ear, once you understand the anatomy of the ear canal, you will easily see why cotton buds should never be used to clean the ear. 
 
Most people do not know that only one-third to one-half of the outer ear canal makes cerumen (ear wax). Some of the primary functions of the cerumen are to moisturize the skin and help prevent foreign substances from entering deeper into the ear canal.
 
While earwax is entirely natural and healthy, it can become the source of some ear-related troubles. When earwax builds up in your ear, it can block your ear canal and even cause hearing loss over time. Most people instinctively reach for a cotton bud to pick the excess wax out of the ear. Unfortunately, however, this method may make matters worse and push the wax way back into the ear canal. 


What can go wrong when you stick cotton buds in your ear? 

 
People routinely cleaning their ears with the buds will justify their habitual behavior by pointing out that removing cerumen from the ear is good and helps clean the ear. 
In reality, however, the earwax itself attempts to clean the inner ear and protect it from bacteria, fungi, insects, and even water.
 
A great way to think of cotton buds is like the plungers used to load cannons. Have that image in your mind, and you can quickly see how sticking Q-tips inside the ear can pack softer wax deeply in the ear canal against the eardrum. The bottom line here is that while your intentions may be good, you may do more harm than good. Sticking cotton buds into your ear canal can have serious consequences. 
Perforated eardrum
 
One such potential outcome of sticking ear buds in your ear is a perforated or punctured eardrum, which is a severe and painful condition. Tragically, a perforated eardrum can lead to chronic ear infections and even permanent hearing loss. 

 
While you may be thinking that a punctured eardrum would never happen to you because you are careful not to stick the bud that far, a perforated eardrum is by far not the only potential damage that can occur. 
 

It's crucial to understand that your eardrum is very delicate, and damaging it with a cotton bud is not that difficult. You don't necessarily need to puncture the eardrum; it is enough to simply touch it with the bud, and you may press on the tiny bones of hearing located directly underneath. 

 
Pressing on these little bones can send vibrational waves into the inner ear, which can be problematic, as the inner ear is responsible for hearing and balance. Tapping on the eardrum will send shock waves into the inner ear and cause problems with your hearing and balance.
Impacted cerumen
 
When you use a Q-tip to remove ear wax from your ear canal, you may end up pushing the cerumen further into the ear canal. So before you grab that cotton bud, realize that ear wax is a natural and healthy substance that is there for a reason, and it's best to leave it alone. You can accidentally create a blockage in the ear canal, leading to significant pain, hearing problems, ringing in the ear, dizziness, and even vertigo. Water can also be trapped behind these wax dams, and you may hear the water moving around in the ear.
 
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO–HNSF), approximately 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults have too much or impacted cerumen. It is estimated that about 12 million people seek treatment for this issue every year. The AAO–HNSF also advises patients not to insert any foreign objects, such as cotton-tipped buds, into their ears. Doing so can make cerumen impaction even worse by pushing the earwax deeper into the ear canal. 
 
When impaction occurs, your ear will need to be washed out by a hearing professional using a gentle stream of warm water. In any case, it is best to see your audiologist or physician, who can look inside your ear and remove the impaction professionally.

What's the best way to remove excess wax at home? 

 
Use the following method to help clean your ears safely at home. Keep in mind, however, that if you have an ear tube or a hole in your eardrum, you should not use this technique. Regardless, the method described below is far better and much safer than using a cotton bud.
Step 1: 
 

Soften the wax. Take the next few days and apply a few drops of baby oil or hydrogen peroxide directly in your ear canal two times a day. 
 
Step 2:
 
Once the wax is softened, squirt clean, lukewarm water into the ear. A rubber bulb syringe works well for this purpose. As you tilt your head, pull on your ear to straighten your ear canal. Once you are finished, tilt your head to the side to let the water drain out. 
 
Step 3:
 
Dry the affected ear when finished. Either dry your outer ear with a towel or a hand-held hairdryer.
 
If the softening and irrigation do not yield the desired results the first time around, be prepared to repeat the entire process. You may need to do this multiple times before the excess wax falls out. Be mindful of the fact that softening may only work on the outer layer of the wax. If that happens, there is a chance that part of the wax lodges itself deep inside the ear canal and all the way against the eardrum. 
 
Once you gave the softening and irrigation method, a fair trial and your symptoms do not improve, be sure to see a healthcare professional. 
 
You can also consider purchasing an earwax removal kit to remove wax buildup. Your audiologist or hearing specialist can help you find the best kit for you and advise you on using other earwax-removal methods properly.