Cotton swabs send 34 children to the ER every day

New study reinforces the dangers of using cotton swabs in the ear, especially in children.
By Amy Wallace   |   May 8, 2017 at 10:30 AM
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May 8 (UPI) -- Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital found during a two-decade-long study that cotton swabs were responsible for sending 263,000 children to the emergency room.

That translates to roughly 12,500 children younger than 18 being treated in ERs annually, or 34 per day. The study showed about two out of every three patients were younger than 8, with patients younger than age 3 accounting for 40 percent of all injuries.

Cotton swabs are not intended to be used in the ear to clean the ear canal and often cause injury when placed too far in. About 30 percent of injuries caused by cotton tip applicators were foreign body sensation and are the most common type, while 25 percent of injuries are perforated ear drum and 23 percent are soft tissue injury.

The study found that the majority of injuries, 73 percent, occurred as a result of using cotton swabs to clean the ears, 10 percent from playing with cotton swabs and 9 percent from children falling when they have the applicator in their ear.

Perforated ear drum was the most common injury among children younger than 8 years of age.

"The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them; both of those are incorrect," Dr. Kris Jatana, of the Department of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children's Hospital and associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said in a press release.

"The ear canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear."

Ninety-nine percent of patients with ear injuries from cotton swabs were treated and released from the ER, but more serious cases causing damage to the ear drum, hearing bones or inner ear could cause long-term problems such as dizziness, balance issues and hearing loss.

The study was published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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