NPR's Andrea Seabrook: Are you going to tell me Dr. Fitzgerald, that you never put a Q-tip in your ear, ever?
Dr. Dennis Fitzgerald: I'm going to tell you that I never, ever, ever put a Q-tip in my ear.
Driving home from work on Saturday I heard the advertisement for this upcoming Weekend Edition story on NPR:
"In the next hour we are going to learn about the "Joys of Ear-Cleaning."
But, darn it--I made it home before the story aired. Call me weird, but I really wanted to hear that story. Frankly, I like to clean my ears, and I guess in a stretch it could be described as a joy.
Well, I've got to tell you, about 10 minutes ago, I checked out the earwax story I had missed on Saturday. Actually, it was a pretty disappointing story. But, it did convince me to call it quits with my Ear Cleaning Habit. You can make up your own mind.
So, Why Does It Feel So Good To Clean Our Ears? (answers from otologist, Dr. Dennis Fitzgerald of Washington, D.C.)
- We like to stick Q-tips into our ears because most likely we've already cleaned all the wax out of our ears, and when the wax is removed, our ears start to itch. Earwax is a good thing--it's a protective coating that prevents the ears from itching, as well as protecting the ear drum & ear canal by trapping dirt, bugs, bacteria & debris. It's kind of like a built-in No-Pest Strip.
- "Well, there are a lot of nerve endings in the ear. And a lot of those nerves are hooked up to other parts of our body, especially internal organs. Certain nerves that are in the skin of the ear canal connect to the intestinal organs." What is he trying to say here? This doesn't seem to answer the question at all, but I wasn't the one doing the interview. I told you this story was disappointing!
Weird Factoid About The Romans and Ear Cleaning (or tickling)
- This is supposed to prove the point that the nerves in the ear canal are connected to the intestines. Back in the day of Roman orgies, when the Romans wanted to regurgitate so that they could eat more food, here's how they did it! They could make themselves vomit by tickling their ear canal with a feather.
- It would trigger the vomit reflex, they'd regurgitate, and then they could go back to eating as much of their favorite foods as they liked.
Why You Should Never Ever Clean Your Ears or Stick Anything Into Them!
- "Because you will create no end of havoc and trouble by pushing wax in further."
- "You will scratch the skin of the ear canal and this will lead to infections."
- If someone just happens to hit your elbow while you have a Q-tip in your ear, that Q-tip could go right through the ear drum.
- You don't even want to know all the ear cleaning horror stories seen by otologists!
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation's Guidelines for Managing Earwax impaction was released on August 29, 2008. Click here.
- Earwax (known as cerumen) is a beneficial, self-cleaning agent, with protective, lubricating (emollient), and antibacterial properties. Leave it alone!
- It should be removed only when it builds up to a point where it causes symptoms such as pain or hearing loss.
- Go to a physician to remove impacted earwax. Appropriate methods are: irrigating or ear syringing by injecting a stream of water into the ear canal; manual removal with special instruments or a suction device; wax dissolving agents like water or saline solution.
- Never use these inappropriate or harmful interventions: Inserting Q-tips; ear candling, which is a technique that involves inserting a paraffin coated tube into the ear and then lighting it; or using oral jet irrigators like Waterpiks (used for the mouth).
- 12 million people a year seek medical treatment for impacted earwax--probably caused by sticking Q-tips into them.
- For all the details you'll need to look at the guidelines.