Monday, 21 May 2018 11:48

Ban the Cotton Bud Featured

Ban the Cotton Bud

You will probably never meet a doctor who has a good thing to say about cotton buds. People will stick a range of mind-boggling objects into their ear to remove wax or just give it a good scratch. The humble and innocuous cotton bud causes more trouble than all of them combined.

The skin of the ear canal is thin and delicate and the eardrum is surprisingly not that far away either.  Pushing an ear bud in and rotating it repeatedly because it feels good to scratch that itch can abrade the skin setting up a painful outer ear infection. Put it slightly too far and the eardrum can be damaged and even ruptured.

Another problem is that pushing the cotton bud in to try and clean wax out can have the opposite effect. It may push the wax further into the ear canal, and block the ear even more. This can make it very difficult to remove and may require a trip to the doctor. Don’t even consider ear candling which is nonsense on a par with alchemy, homeopathy and vaccinations causing autism.

“So what am I to do? Am I left to suffer?” I hear your plaintive cry.

Fear not there is help at hand. If you are troubled by itchy ears then see your GP. Usually there is a mild dermatitis at play and weak steroid creams or drops can treat it. Or sometimes your ears look ok and, if you are honest with yourself, it is probably just a guilty pleasure to scratch them. But all such pleasures usually have a consequence, so maybe you just need a slap on the wrist.

Where wax is concerned, usually it does not need to be cleaned out. The ear canal has a self-cleaning mechanism to move wax gradually to the outside and it does not need assistance. Wax has an important function to protect the skin of the canal from moisture and infection and it is best left in place.

Wax troubles can arise sometimes in people with very narrow canals where wax can accumulate a bit more. Also your genetics may be at fault. The human species can be divided into those who have dry crumbly wax and those with sticky wax and this is genetically determined. If you have sticky wax and relatively narrow canals you are probably more likely to get troublesome accumulations of wax that can block the ear.

If you are prone to wax accumulation and blockage then try some wax softening drops (there are various brands the pharmacist can recommend) or just olive oil into the canal for 3-4 nights. If this doesn’t help then see your doctor to have it removed.

At Busselton Medical Practice, we believe the best method to remove earwax safely is with suctioning under microscopic control. If you feel you need this done then make a booking for this purpose and make sure you use earwax softeners for 3-4 days before.

So, Grannie was right. Don’t stick anything smaller than your elbow into your ear!