Parents are being warned to keep cotton buds out of the reach of children due to injury risks.
A study conducted by Nationwide Children's Hospital researchers across the U.S. found that from 1990 through to 2010, an estimated 263,000 people under the age of 18 were treated in emergency departments for cotton-tipped applicator related ear injuries. That figure equates to around 12,500 admissions annually or about 34 injuries every day.
"The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them; both of those are incorrect," said senior author Dr. Kris Jatana from the Department of Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children's Hospital and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "The ears canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the eardrum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear."
The study found that the majority of injuries occurred as a result of using cotton tip applicators to clean the ears, while 10 per cent were caused by children playing with cotton tip applicators, or falling when they have cotton tip applicators in their ear.
Meanwhile, most of the injuries occurred when the child was using the cotton tip applicator by themselves, followed by injuries that happened when a parent or sibling used the cotton tip applicator to clean the child's ear. Around two out of every three patients were younger than eight years of age, with patients aged 0-three years accounting for 40 per cent of all injuries.
Foreign body sensation was the most common diagnosis among children aged eight-17 years, while perforated eardrum was the most common among children younger than eight years of age.
Almost all of the patients seen in emergency departments for these injuries were treated and released.
"These products may seem harmless, but this study shows how important it is that they not be used to clean ears," added Dr. Jatana.
In more serious cases of misapplication, damage to the ear drum, hearing bones, or inner ear, can lead to dizziness, problems with balance, and irreversible hearing loss.
The full study has been published in The Journal of Pediatrics.