Dr. Ilaaf Darrat, an otolaryngologist -- ear, nose and throat -- at Henry Ford Hospital who co-authored the study, says if the cotton swab is pushed too far in the ear canal, it can rupture an eardrum or cause other serious damage.
"If a patient is experiencing symptoms such as hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormality in their facial movements they should see a doctor immediately to assess the possible ear damage," Darrat says in a statement.
However, the study also finds in most cases the rupture heals on its own and surgery is only necessary for the most severe cases.
The results of this study show that 97 percent of cases healed on their own within two months, proving that most cases do not require surgery," Darrat says.
Dr. Michael Seidman, director of the division of otologic and neurotologic surgery at Henry Ford Hospital who was a co-author of the study, suggests cotton swab alternatives to clean the inner ear.
-- Take cool peroxide, hot tap water and mix equally. Be sure it is body temperature and gently irrigate the ear one or two times per month.
-- Take plain vinegar and water and use four or five drops in the ear once a week.
-- See a doctor, who can remove ear wax for you.
-- Try an over-the-counter treatment such as Debrox.
The findings were presented at the Combined Otolaryngology spring meeting in Chicago.