A while back, my relative's "little rascal" was jumping around on the sofa while digging into his ear. The tragic result? He fell, and the cotton swab he was using pierced his eardrum. This led to heart-wrenching cries, a bit of blood in the ear canal, and a rush to the hospital, where an ear inspection revealed a congested eardrum with blood clots.

Is Ear Digging Necessary?

Many folks make it a habit to use cotton swabs to clean their ears after a shower, aiming to remove earwax or residual water. However, we strongly advise against it for the following reasons:

  • Earwax (cerumen) isn't entirely useless; it serves as a natural barrier, preventing dust and bacteria from entering deep into the ear canal.

  • The secretion of oil in the ear canal acts as a moisturizing layer for the ear canal skin, reducing sensitivity and itching.

  • Moreover, the ear canal is self-cleaning; earwax naturally gets expelled as we chew, talk, and move.

In most cases, ear cleaning is unnecessary.

The Hazards of Ear Digging

The seemingly harmless act of digging into the ear carries significant risks, as demonstrated by the incident with the child at the beginning of this article.

Because we can't see inside our ears, relying on sensation to dig may push earwax deeper into the ear canal, making it difficult for earwax to self-expel. Long-term blockage can cause the earwax to become dry and hard, pressing on nerves and triggering reflexive coughing. Earwax can also swell and cause pain when exposed to water. Persistent blockage may lead to conductive hearing loss (normal hearing is restored after removing the earwax).

The tools used for ear digging, whether cotton swabs or metal ear spoons, may introduce bacteria into the ear canal if not properly disinfected. If there are cuts or wounds on the ear canal skin, this can lead to infections, such as external otitis.

Accidental collisions during ear digging, external forces pushing cotton swabs, can puncture the eardrum, causing traumatic tympanic membrane perforation.

Excessive ear canal cleaning can leave the ear canal skin unprotected, making it prone to injury or infection. Many people have experienced increasingly itchy ears due to excessive cleaning, disrupting the ear canal skin's mildly acidic pH balance, leading to the growth of fungi and bacteria, causing chronic itching, and even chronic external otitis.

What to Do with Traumatic Tympanic Membrane Perforation?

Traumatic tympanic membrane perforation may result from improper ear digging, accidental incidents, or injuries to the ear, such as slaps or pressure injuries. When traumatic tympanic membrane perforation occurs, there is sudden severe ear pain, followed by possible bleeding in the ear, hearing loss, and ringing in the ear. If the ossicular chain is interrupted or the inner ear is damaged, hearing loss can be more severe. Dizziness may indicate inner ear injury.

Seek medical attention promptly. A doctor will provide a clear diagnosis through ear mirror examinations and hearing tests.

  1. Typically, no specific treatment is needed. Keep the ear dry, prevent water from entering the ear, and use alcohol-soaked cotton balls to plug the ear canal during showers or hair washes.

  2. Guard against colds to prevent the occurrence of otitis media.

  3. Avoid inappropriate nose blowing.

  4. For those who need to prevent or treat ear inflammation, antibiotics should be taken under the doctor's advice.

Most small perforations can heal on their own. For those that persist for more than 2-3 months, consideration of repair or restoration surgery is advisable under the doctor's recommendation.

After reading the above article, have you also realized the risks and hazards of ear digging? If you feel discomfort in your ears or excessive earwax secretion, it's recommended to visit the hospital's ENT department and have professionals clean your ear canal. Remember, don't go to roadside ear-picking shops—they lack expertise, and their equipment may not be properly disinfected, potentially leading to inflammation or accidents. Love your ears, and please refrain from casually digging into them!

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