Cleanliness is important for good health, but there are certain body areas that parents shouldn't clean. One is inside your child's ear canals.
Cleaning ear canals of wax (cerumen) increases the chances of developing otitis externa. Otitis externa, inflammation or infection of the ear canal, is commonly called swimmer's ear. That's because excessive moisture in the ear canal softens it, making the skin more vulnerable to infection.
Although cotton-tipped applicators (Q-TIps) are the most common, bobby pins, toothpicks, and many other objects are also used to remove wax. These misguided attempts at cleanliness scratch the thin lining of the ear canal, making it more vulnerable to infections and inflammation.
Children with otitis externa are twice as likely to have had a Q-Tip inserted into their ears within the preceding 10 days than their peers without otitis externa.
Other factors that increase the chances of otitis externa are swimming within the preceding 10 days or having a physician remove ear wax.
Nothing--not cotton-tipped applicators, bobby pins, etc.--should be inserted into a child's ear canal. There's no reason to remove wax from a child's ear canal unless the problem is severe, affecting the child's hearing. Then the wax should be removed by a health care professional.
Parents should remove only what they can see in the child's ear and ear canal. If a moist face cloth won't remove the offending material, then it should be left alone. Given enough time, most cerumen migrates out of the ear canal. Trying to clean it from the canal usually results in pushing the wax farther in, making removal by your child's doctor all the more difficult.
International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 4/04.
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