Despite the warning on the outside of cotton swab packages, many people continue to use them to clean their ears. But one British man’s near-death experience due to the common hygiene product is proof of just how dangerous they are.
The 31-year-old contracted a deadly infection in his skull after a piece of cotton from the swab broke off in his ear, according to a case published on March 6 in BMJ Case Reports.
After being rushed to the hospital following a seizure, the man told doctors that not only had he recently been experiencing severe headaches and discharge but that he had been suffering from pain in his left ear along with hearing loss over the last five years, Live Science reports.
He was given a CT scan where doctors discovered the tip of a cotton swab lodged in his ear canal, covered in wax and debris. Diagnosing him with “necrotizing otitis externa,” a bacterial infection that occurs in the external auditory canal, they were able to successfully remove the piece of cotton in surgery before the infection had made its way through the lining of the man’s brain.
Fortunately, the man, who was hospitalized for a week and had to undergo two months of antibiotic treatments, will not have any long-term hearing loss or neural problems. He was, however, ordered by ENT specialist Dr. Alexander Charlton not to use cotton swabs in the future as Charlton told Live Science, “They can only cause problems.”
Doctors have long warned of the dangers of using swabs to clean ears. In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that about 34 children go to the emergency room each day for cotton swab-related ear injuries. The organization wrote, “Cotton-tipped swabs are not meant to be placed in ears… the best thing to do with earwax is to leave it alone.”