Cotton swabs, which consumers typically use to clean out their ears, have been around for nearly 100 years, but according to a new study, they are causing more harm than good, sending 34 children to the emergency room every day.
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The report, which was conducted by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that an estimated 263,000 children under the age of 18 were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for cotton top applicator-related ear injuries from 1990 through 2010.
“The injury rate was highest in the 0-3 year old children and a majority of the time the children themselves were using the product. Despite warning labels to not use these in the ear canal are provided by many manufacturers on packaging, ear injuries continue to occur and can be serious,” Kris Jatana, a pediatric expert at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who led the study, tells FOX Business.
Researchers also found that a majority of injuries—around 77%--happened when kids tried using the swabs on their own without any supervision. Roughly, two out of every three ER patients were younger than 8 years old, and 40% percent of all injuries happened with children three years old and younger.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, warns parents that the products aren’t as safe as you might think and injuries could cause permanent damage ranging from sensitivity & pain, perforated eardrums, and soft-tissue injuries.
“This can cause infection, irreversible hearing loss, dizziness or balance problems. The need for surgical intervention is rare but can be required,” Jatana adds.
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Doctors have long warned people against cleaning out the inside of their ears with cotton swabs too. Earlier this year, in January, the Journal of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery even updated clinical guidelines around the issue, emphasizing that cotton swabs are not suitable for earwax removal and you should not put anything “smaller than your elbow in your ear.”
Jatana says there is a “clear misconception that the ear canals actually need to be cleaned using this product,” but the truth is that any visible wax on the outer portion of the ear can be simply washed with soap and water, or wiped with a wet cloth.
Consumer goods giant Unilever (UN) owns the world’s largest maker of cotton swabs—Q-tips—which is estimated to generate over $200 million in sales a year.
Unilever did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for a comment.