Q-tips are the popular brand name for cotton swabs manufactured and sold by Unilever in the United States. They are not the same as all other cotton swabs but they are often used for to clean ears. Small children are not the only ones subject to the dangers of incorrect Q-tip use. Rather, anyone who sticks a Q-tip inside the ear area is vulnerable to complications as severe as loss of hearing. Fortunately, Q-tips aren't the only method for keeping ears clean, healthy, and free of excess build-up.
Many people who use Q-tips have a habit of prodding as deep as possible in search of ear wax. This is one of the main dangers of using them. As a result, the cotton swab is stuck too far into the inner ear, which can bruise or damage the fragile skin in the ear canal. The skin can become dry, inflamed or infected over time and might require medical attention.
Though not as common as skin damage, hearing loss is another potential risk of using Q-tip and can result from incorrect use. Pushing a Q-tip into the inner ear does little to remove build-up. In fact, it often pushes wax farther into the canal. The pressure from the tip of the cotton swab can rupture the ear drum and eventually lead to a loss of hearing. For this reason, the manufacturer suggests that Q-tips are safe for use outside the ear only.
Q-tips are among the least-safe tools for use inside the ear. But they can come in handy for other purposes. Cotton swabs work well for cleaning jewelry, electronics and other household crevices. Children can use them during arts-and-crafts for projects such as painting. As long as they are kept sterile, Q-tips help with the application of salves and ointments on burns, scrapes and bruises. Women can use them to apply makeup and remove fingernail polish.
A small amount of ear wax is actually necessary for optimal ear health. The wax buildup serves the purpose of keeping things like dust, debris from hair product, and water from entering the ear canal and causing infection. Still, excessive ear wax can be both bothersome and embarrassing. Instead of using Q-tips, remove it via irrigation by a doctor or by using over-the-counter mineral oil drops made for this purpose. Avoid all other pointed objects, including hair pins.
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