Can Cotton Swabs Damage Hearing?

This blog has been reviewed and approved by a hearing care professional.

Most of us have heard that you should not use cotton swabs to clean your ears, though many of us still reach for one for this purpose. Can it damage your hearing? Why shouldn’t you use a cotton swab? And if so, what should we do instead?


Using a cotton swab to clean your ears is potentially one of the most harmful things that you can do to them.1 Certain brands of cotton swabs even advise against doing this right on the packaging.


A cotton swab can puncture your eardrums which could lead to hearing loss. It can also cause tears in the ear canal which may lead to infections.1 You may think you don’t push the swab too far into your ear, but accidents do happen.


If an accident doesn’t happen, you still aren’t cleaning out your ear as the cotton swab acts like a plunger pushing earwax further in the ear. Once you push the wax deeper inside, there is no way for it to get naturally swept out, and the earwax may become impacted overtime. This can also create a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria which can ultimately lead to an infection.1

You normally don't need to clean earwax out of your ears because there's a natural cleaning system in the ear canal that sweeps earwax; you naturally dispel earwax through chewing and talking.1


However, in some situations, the ear does make an excessive amount of earwax. There are a couple of signs that you may have a buildup of earwax; for example, if your ears are itchy or you have an earache. If your hearing aids start to whistle it could also be a sign of wax build-up. In those cases, your doctor or some of our clinicians can perform earwax removal. This works well for many people, and as you are having the procedure performed by a professional, you can feel confident that they take particular caution when removing earwax.

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1 Hilton, Christopher. “Are Q-Tips Dangerous.” Health Partners. Accessed May 27, 2022.