If you have cotton swabs in your home, one of the top uses is likely to clean your ears. If you took the time to read the warning label on the packaging, however, you might think twice. The warning reads: “Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.”
According to USA Today, over the last five years, a healthy 31-year-old the man has been suffering from left ear pain and hearing loss. His general practitioner prescribed two different antibiotics. This past March, the man found himself in the emergency room after suffering a seizure and collapsing. He had been complaining of pain in his left ear, along with ear discharge, for the 10 days prior. He also experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches and memory loss.
For this man, the culprit was a piece of cotton swab that had become lodged in his ear, resulting in an infection in the lining of the his brain. Ten weeks after the cotton swab remnants were removed, the man reported no neurological problems and no residual ear symptoms.
This story alone could swear you off cotton swabs to clean your ears, but there are other reasons to not use them that have nothing to do with your ears.
In addition to the potential for damage if stuck in the ear, cotton swabs can also be a choking hazard for children and pets if the swabs are left within reach in the bathroom. Don’t forget that kids and pets can easily tip over the bathroom wastebasket and get at discarded swabs. LA’s Dog Trainer ranks them as one of the top 18 objects that can cause puncture wounds, choking or internal organ damage to your pet.
So, cotton swabs can harm you, your children and your pets. Is there anything else? Well, cotton swabs with paper, cardboard or wood stems can be composted, but those with plastic stems cannot. Those plastic-stem swabs end up in landfills.
And, to drive home the message, here’s another cotton swab disaster that made the news. On Christmas Day, 2007, Buddy Stanley walked into Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Upon doing so, he slipped on a discarded cotton swab, fell and injured his shoulder and lumbar areas. He reportedly sued Barnes for $50,000for “failing to warn him” of the danger. The case was dismissed in 2013. You’ve been warned.