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Be Careful With Cotton Swabs in Your Child's Ears

I always use safety swabs when I clean my daughter's ears -- the ones with the funny shaped tip that can only go a tiny bit into the ear canal. Except for the one time I didn't.
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By Amanda Russo

I always use safety swabs when I clean my daughter's ears -- the ones with the funny shaped tip that can only go a tiny bit into the ear canal. Except for the one time I didn't.

One evening, my daughter was brushing her teeth after her bath. I was sitting beside her, watching. I realized it had been a few days since I swabbed her ears, so I reached over and grabbed a regular q-tip from the container on the sink. As she brushed, I began to swab her ear. She startled at the unexpected touch and jerked her head toward me, then she suddenly screamed and jumped into my arms.

"I'm just cleaning your ears," I told her calmly. And then I noticed the blood. It was just a tiny drop, but my daughter's ear was bleeding -- and it was all my fault.

I didn't want her to see the panic on my face, but I was freaking out. I carried her to the living room and called her pediatrician. As the phone rang I thought: What if I ruptured her ear drum? Why else would it have bled? What if her hearing is permanently damaged because of me?

As if she sensed my worry she looked up at me and said in her sweet little voice, "I okay, mommy."

The doctor told me to bring her in and I was lucky to learn that her ear drum was intact. No rupture or damage. The doctor said I probably just dislodged some built up wax or scratched her ear canal with the swab. It could have happened to anyone.


I looked around the office at my daughter, my husband and our pediatrician and I uttered the vow: I will never put anything in her ear ever again.

We were given antibiotic drops, just to be safe, and we learned from our pediatrician that earwax serves a purpose: It protects the ear. The only part of the ear that needs to be cleaned can be done in the bath with a wash cloth. Inserting a swab can push wax further into the ear, irritate the canal, and cause infection.

After that awful experience, I felt compelled to share it with you, my fellow parents, in the hope that you will learn from my mistake.

Below are some tips on how to safely take care of your child's ears. Read them carefully!

1. Only use a washcloth and only clean the outer ear. Earwax is there for a reason! Leave it alone.

2. If you must swab your child's ears, use a safety swab and be gentle.

3. Protect your child's ears from loud noise. Use earmuff style earplugs if you're at an outdoor concert or any event where loud noise will occur.

4. If your child swims often, use a swim cap to prevent swimmers ear.

5. If your suspect your child has an ear infection, bring them to see a doctor right away.

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Amanda Russo works as a Pre-K teacher in Brooklyn where she lives with her husband and daughter.

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