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May 24, 2024

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After-Bath Routines: Avoid The Injury That Sends Kids to the ER

Bathing, brushing hair and teeth, using the potty and then storytime, right? Just no matter what, don't do this one, useless grooming routine with kids.

Bedtime routines can be sweet and fun … or needlessly painful.

Ear swabs. That’s the culprit. And while they are used for everything under the sun (dabbing on medical creams, applying makeup, cleaning hard-to-get to cracks and crevices, etc.) the one thing they are actually made for is the one thing your kids should avoid. The makers of Q-tips even say so on their packaging:

“Do not insert swab into ear canal. If used to clean ears, stroke swab gently around the outer surface of the ear only.”

Children watch what Mommy and Daddy do. If you clean your ears with a swab, they will attempt to do it, too. Make sure you teach your child not to do it!


Most adults understand how to use cotton swabs (although from time to time you do read about someone seriously injuring himself), but kids need to learn — and hopefully before a little trial and error results in error: The slightest amount of pressure into the ear with a cotton swab can cause a serious injury.

The truth is, cotton swabs are not meant to be placed in ears, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. When a swab is pushed into the ear, the user actually pushes ear wax further into the ear which can result in problems. A 2017 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that as many as 34 children go to the emergency room each day for cotton-tipped swab-related ear issues. In fact, more than 263,000 U.S. kids were treated with cotton-swab ear injuries between 1990 and 2010. About two-thirds of the cases — 73 percent — involved self ear-cleaning.

“The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting,” says Kris Jatana, M.D., senior author of the 2017 study. “And that cotton-tip applicators should be used to clean them, but that’s incorrect,” he adds.

Pediatricians now agree that the best thing to do with earwax is to leave it alone.

“The ear canals are usually self-cleaning,” Jatana continues. “Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear,” he says.

Injuries that can occur to the ear related to ear swabs include foreign body sensation, perforated ear drum and soft tissue damage.

It’s worth reminding yourself and your children: The only use for ear swabs is for gently cleaning the outer rim of the ear. You can also do that safely with a towel and teach your child to do that, too. Save the swabs for all of those other uses.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.