Cotton swabs responsible for hospitalizing 34 kids a day, study finds

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cotton swabs such as Q-tips may be responsible for many clean ears across the nation, but they are also blamed for injuring more kids than you might suspect, a new study finds.

Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital based in Columbus, Ohio, recently compiled the results from a 21-year long study, which found that from 1990 to 2010, 263,000 children under the age of 18 had been admitted to the hospital for ear injuries emanating from the use of cotton swabs — also known as cotton tip applicators.

Broken down, this rate of hospitalization equates to about 12,500 ear-related injuries annually among kids, or 34 a day.

Cotton swabs or cotton tip applicators
A new study finds that 34 children on average are hospitalized every day with injuries caused by cotton swabs.

The study’s authors went on to emphasize that, contrary to popular belief, using cotton swabs to excavate the inner ear is usually unnecessary.

“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,” says Dr. Kris Jatana, senior author of the study, in a press release. “The ear canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear.”

The researchers found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of ear-related injuries requiring hospitalization examined (73 percent) occurred as a result of kids— or their parents— using cotton swabs to clean their ears. Ten percent of injuries came from playing with the cotton tip applicators, while nine percent came from kids falling while they had applicators in their ear.

Over three-fourths of injuries occurred when a kid was by themselves, while about two-thirds of those injured were younger than eight years of age.

While only about one percent of patients had longer-lasting, more serious issues, and “the number of overall injuries from cotton tip applicators did decrease during the 21 years we looked at in our study, it is still unacceptably high,” says Dr. Jatana.

The most common injuries sustained were foreign body sensation (30 percent), perforated ear drum (25 percent), and soft tissue injury (23 percent). The likelihood of suffering a specific injury varied slightly by age.

The study’s data was pulled from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which uses sample hospital data to extrapolate grander numbers.

The study’s findings were published online in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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