A common bathtime routine is sending thousands of kids to the emergency room every year—around 34 children per day. Despite warnings from Paediatricians and safety product labeling.

What is it you ask? Cleaning your kid’s ears with cotton swabs.

Data analysis by US researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found more than 30 children a day end up in hospital emergency rooms after suffering an ear injury related to using a cotton swab. Most of the children who suffered injuries were under 3 years old.

The researchers looked at two decades of records from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Overall, more than 260,000 children went to emergency departments for a cotton-swab related ear injury between 1990 and 2010. The number of injuries peaked in 2001, but remained high at almost 13,000 in 2010.

Perforated Ear Drums

About two out of three patients were younger than 8, and children younger than 3 years old accounting for 40 percent of all injuries. Cotton swabs can actually cause serious injury by either pushing ear wax or other debris deeper into the ear canal or puncturing the ear drum. The most common injury among children under the age of 8 is a perforated ear drum.

Although ear wax is normal and actually protects the ear, studies from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation have shown that 90 percent of people still think they should regularly clean their own ears or their kids’ ears. However, the most common reason kids end up in the ER is an obstruction of the ear canal or a perforated ear drum, according to an analysis of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

When it comes to how the injury happens, most occur while cleaning their ears, but a significant amount of kids—about 20 percent—get hurt playing with cotton swabs or falling while they have a swab in their ear. Most of these injuries happen when the kids are in control of the cotton swabs themselves, but parents are also responsible for accidental injuries about 16 percent of the time.

Share your comments below.

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  • I knew it was potential dangerous but not that so many children were bring hurt. Hopefully most of them have no permanent damage. Makes me think twice about using cotton buds.


  • Yes, I knew this was very dangerous.


  • Have never used cotton buds in my children’s ears ever. Can be so harmful


  • wow i didn’t expect that to be the answer! what an amazingly high number for something that would be considered mundane


  • Ears were cleaned using this method for many years. Our Grandparents and generations before them knew no better. In fact some used Cotton Wool wrapped around a match or hairclip. In actual fact that method often compacts wax in your ear besides the fact that you can actually damage ears.


  • I never used a cotton swab in my sons ear canal but I did use it on the shell of their ears. My reason was I was scared I’d hurt them. Didn’t realise back then I could have damaged their ears.


  • It’s definitely something that you need to be very careful with.


  • Thank you for this information, cheers.


  • This warning is not new, but obviously a timely reminder.


  • Amazing how people never learn – it must be the ‘it’ll never happen to me’ gene. Glad I never used them with my children. They managed enough hospital visits on their own without my help.

    • So very true – there are enough little visits without one for this!


  • There are so many warnings about cotton buds – just not worth the risk.


  • The old saying rings true and clear.
    “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear”.

    • haha, love that, I don’t think my elbow would reach my ears!!


  • How many times have we been told not to use cotton swabs for ears? There’s just no helping some people – poor children though.


  • I bought the baby ones, but have never used them despite my son having a lot of wax, and am very glad now I haven’t! Now to kick the habit for myself and my husband so little one doesn’t hurt himself with one of ours we’ve accidently left in his reach!


  • When you use those baby cotton swabs, this isn’t likely to happen. To remove ear wax it’s better to put some drops of hydrogen peroxide in the ears every now and then and drain the ears.


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