Study: Cotton Tip Applicators Injure Children at Surprising Rate

Despite warnings, 1,000 children are treated in emergency departments each month

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Doctors have warned that using cotton tip applicators to clean your ears can lead to injury and infection, but a new study shows that a startling number of children suffer injuries after cotton tip applicators are inserted into their ears. The study by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that more than a quarter of a million children were treated in U.S. emergency departments from 1990-2010 for cotton tip applicator-related ear injuries, that’s about 34 children every day.

    “Far too many children and parents believe that the ears should be cleaned at home, and that a cotton tip applicator is the tool to do that,” said Kris Jatana, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study. “And because this study only captured injuries that were treated in emergency departments, there were likely a lot more injuries to children who were treated by an ear, nose and throat specialist or a pediatrician.”

    Of the children treated in emergency departments, more than two-thirds were under the age of eight, and 77 percent of patients were handling the cotton tip applicators themselves. Dr. Jatana says these products should be kept out of the reach of young children, and it’s important for parents to teach older children that cotton tip applicators should never be used in their ears.

   “The ear canals are self-cleaning, so not only is it unnecessary to clean children’s ear canals, but it puts them at serious risk of injury,” said Dr. Jatana. “Cotton tip applicators can easily cause a perforation or hole in the eardrum or push wax deeper into the ear canal where it gets trapped. Injuries can cause infection, dizziness or irreversible hearing loss.”

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A new study by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that more than 260,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments over a 21-year period for ear injuries related to cotton tip applicators.

Dayven Kalyanam, 13, suffered a perforated eardrum caused by a cotton tip applicator and no longer uses them to clean his ears.

Kris Jatana, M.D. examines a patient’s ears at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He commonly sees patients with injuries and infections to their ears caused by cotton tip applicators.

Experts say inserting cotton tip applicators into the ear can tear the eardrum or push wax too deep into the ear where it can cause infection. A new study found that about 34 children are treated in U.S. emergency departments every day for ear injuries related to cotton tip applicators.