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How Using Cotton Buds to Clean the Ears Can Quickly Go Wrong
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  • If you have a pack of cotton buds at home, check the packaging. Most will have a warning on the label stating that the cotton buds should not be inserted into the ear canal. This warning often goes unnoticed and unheeded because many (non-parents included) think they are careful when they use it.

    Over at our Smart Parenting (SP) Village Facebook group, an incident shared by a mom of a 2-year-old boy illustrates how the use of cotton buds to clean ears can quickly go wrong. 

    “Hi, mommies. Help me. Si baby nasundot niya 'yung tenga niya gamit cotton buds. Kasalanan ko kasi hinayaan ko siya gamitin 'yun. Akala ko kasi sa labas lang lilinisin niya naipasok niya na pala sa tenga niya. Tapos umiyak siya at nagdugo 'yung tenga niya.”

    Her fellow SP Villagers were quick to respond with advice to immediately bring her little one to the nearest hospital emergency room. 

    Doctors have constantly been reminding parents NOT to clean children’s ears with cotton buds. Pushing foreign objects inside to “clean” it creates more problems than it solves. 

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    A new study from the Journal of Pediatrics found that, between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 263,000 children in the U.S. ages 18 and below were sent to the emergency room for ear injuries resulting from the use of cotton buds. Children below 8 years old made up 67 percent of the cases with children below 3 years old sustaining the highest rate of injury. 

    The cotton buds were being used to clean the kids' ears, according to the report, with bleeding and “the presence of a foreign body” (that means a piece or portion of the cotton bud has been left behind in the ear canal) as the most common reasons for the ER visit. 

    In the majority of the cases (and like our mom above), the kids themselves were handling the cotton buds and cleaning their ears, which should never be the case. But children see their parents doing it, and they love to emulate their mom and dad. After all, “the practice of cleaning one’s ears has a strong familial influence.” It passes from the parents to the kids and continues throughout the child's adulthood, as emphasized in the most recent guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS).

    The AAO-HNS also warn that cleaning with cotton buds can push ear wax further into the ear as opposed to taking it out. The wax then gets lodged inside, builds up, and causes a blockage. Excessive earwax build up happens to one in 10 children and one in 20 adults, according to the AAO-HNS report. This can lead to problems like hearing loss, itching, discharge, odor, or worse, infection.

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    The ear canals won't ever need cleaning, said the AAO-HNS, because they are, in fact, self-cleaning. Earwax doesn't build up inside the ear because tiny microscopic, hair-like structures called cilia prevent this from happening. Cilia slowly carries the earwax out of the ear canal. Everyday activities like talking, eating, and regular bathing also help in pushing the earwax out. 

    The proper way to clean your child’s ears is to leave the canal alone. Keeping the outer ear clean is enough by wiping it gently using a wet washcloth. However, if you think that your baby has wax build up in his inner ear, have his doctor take a look during a routine checkup. 

    “As long as the pediatrician can see through the wax and visualize the eardrum, it is still okay,” Dr. Dyan Hes, a medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in the US, told Parents. “If the earwax is blocking the entire canal, then it is a problem,” he added. If this is the case, the doctor can either use a surgical tool called a curette to scrape out the wax or flush it away with warm liquid. 

    Signs of a problem include changes in your child’s hearing, pain, fever, and blood or pus oozing out of your baby’s ear. Consult a doctor for any concerns about your child’s hearing and ears.

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