Don’t Stick Stuff in Your Ear

Don’t Stick Stuff in Your Ear: What to Share With Patients

Cotton swabs, pencils, ear buds, fingers and even DIY ear molds … there are a lot of items people like to stick in their ears. However, the need to stick items in ears can also lead to serious injuries, infections and even permanent hearing loss.

Kailen Berry, Au.D., Phonak Audiology Manager, shares tips on how to talk with patients about proper ear health during Better Hearing & Speech Month and every month.

No. 1 Reason For Eardrum Perforation

According to a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, more than 263,000 children in the U.S. had to be treated in the emergency room for ear injuries related to cotton tip applicators between 1990-2010. About 73% involved ear cleaning.

More than 263,000 children in the U.S. had to be treated in the emergency room for ear injuries related to cotton tip applicators.

“Ear wax is necessary to prevent bacteria and debris getting into the ear,” said Berry. “It’s not always necessary to remove it, though. However, sometimes a buildup of earwax can be bothersome, and unfortunately, a cotton swab is about the right size to fit in the ear canal.”

By pushing the cotton swab into the ear canal, it can push the earwax further down inside the ear as well as do damage.

Explain to patients that because they cannot see what they are doing they can actually do more harm. “The skin inside the ear canal is sensitive,” said Berry. “Patients can abrade the skin or even perforate their ear drum, especially if they’re in the bathroom and their arm gets bumped.”

Berry suggests to patients that they let warm water from the shower run in the ear and then gently wipe it away with a wash cloth. Or, sometimes an ear wax softener will be needed to safely remove the wax.

“If they’re not successful, explain to patients that they can always call you, their hearing care provider,” she said.

The Heavy Risks of Ear Candling

Another way some patients are removing ear wax is through ear candling. Ear candles are hollow cones made of fabric covered in paraffin wax, beeswax or soy wax. Most ear candles are about a foot in length. The pointed end of the candle is placed in a patient’s ear. The slightly wider end is lit.

People claim that the warmth created by the flame causes a suction action. The suction pulls earwax and other impurities out of the ear canal and into the hollow candle.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, there is no scientific evidence that ear candling pulls out wax from the ear canal. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)issued a warning not to use ear candles because they can cause serious injuries.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, there is no scientific evidence that ear candling pulls out wax from the ear canal.

“There are plenty of safe ways to clean your ears,” said Berry. “Besides, fire should never be near your ears.”

Earbuds: Time, Volume and Storage

Earbuds are everywhere as more and more people use them to listen to music and phone calls. However, these little devices can cause major damage. According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of people up to 35 are at risk of having some degree of hearing loss due to loud music.

According to the World Health Organization, 50 percent of people up to 35 are at risk of having some degree of hearing loss due to loud music.

“The biggest safety concern is volume and length of time,” said Berry. Share with patients that they should be using volume limiters. This allows them to set the maximum volume to a safe limit. This should be put into place for both adults and children. Also, follow the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit.

In addition to volume control, storage is also important when wearing earbuds. “If your patients place them in a car cupholder or at the bottom of their purse, they probably have bacteria on them,” Berry said.

Remind patients to gently clean earbuds off before placing them in their ears so they do not introduce debris and bacteria in the ear canal. “If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t stick in in your ears,” added Berry.

DIY … Don’t … With Ear Molds

There are now ways for patients to take their own ear molds. Berry recommends sharing the process a hearing care professional takes when creating an impression.

  1. Inspect the ear to check for health. Look for infection and drainage.
  2. Check for physical malformations, like boney growths.
  3. Use an Otoblock to make the impression.

“These are the steps that can create a better impression while keeping the ear safe,” said Berry. “The main point is that a hearing care professional can see what he/she is doing as well as being qualified to spot issues.”

Whereas a patient by him/herself cannot see what he/she is doing and could potentially do harm. In addition, a hearing care professional knows what a good impression looks like and will make sure it is satisfactory.

“When the hearing aid comes back from Phonak, the hearing care professional can check its fit and make some adjustments,” she added.

So What Can You Stick in Your Ear?

Protect your hearing during loud environments is crucial. That can be mowing the lawn to fireworks to concerts.

Simple ear plugs can be the best defense. “Make sure they’re made for the purpose,” said Berry. “When in doubt, have your hearing care professional help you figure it out.”

Jo-El Grossman

Jo-El Grossman is currently the Communications & Content Manager for Phonak U.S. Although she joined the company in October 2017, she brings her skills as an accomplished, creative and qualified marketing and editorial leader with a multi-media background.