Ear surgeon issues cotton buds warning

AN ear surgeon has warned against the use of cotton buds for cleaning ears.

Mr Charles Shinkwin, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) consultant surgeon, said cotton buds were one of the most common causes of ear canal problems in patients he has treated.

Mr Shinkwin, who works at both the private Bon Secours Hospital in Cork and Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick, said by right, “nothing smaller than the elbow should be used” when cleaning the ear.

Mr Shinkwin, who spent some time working in “ear casualty” in Britain, said the damage caused by cotton buds had surfaced again and again as a result of patients “interfering” with their ears using cotton buds.

“By using a cotton bud, there is potential for causing damage... The skin in the inner part of the ear canal is very thin and very sensitive. Twirling a cotton bud between your finger and thumb during the cleaning process can take away the protective layer of skin. As a result, activities such as swimming can cause damage. Chlorine in the swimming pool can irritate the skin and cause inflammation,” Mr Shinkwin said.

“A cotton bud can also push the wax in deeper and if water gets into the ear, you have a beautiful breeding ground for bacteria. This can cause a condition known as otitis externa, or inflammation of the ear canal,” Mr Shinkwin said.

The ENT surgeon said the ear was self-cleaning and that “at any rate, wax is clean”.

“If you want to remove wax from the outer ear, use a facecloth, or a baby wipe if cleaning a baby’s ear... ENT surgeons recommend you do not cotton buds for this purpose,” he said.

A spokesperson for Johnson and Johnson, who last year sold 135 million cotton buds in Ireland, said they were conscious of the dangers associated with using their product when cleaning the ear. “That is why we have a warning, in bold, on the packaging, to say never insert a cotton bud in your inner ear,” the spokeswoman said. She said cotton buds could be used for a variety of other cleaning purposes, including between the toes of babies, or in adults, for removing eye make-up.

The dangers of cotton buds were highlighted in a case in Britain last year after a child who had been profoundly deaf in one ear for nine years discovered why when a cotton bud finally popped out and he was able to hear again. The family of Jerome Bartens, 11, believe he must have poked the bud into the ear when he was a toddler and the tip broke off the plastic stem.


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