Love and Blood: A Q-Tip Story
April 9, 2016 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Like many people, I love to swab my ears with a Q-Tip after showering. I'm aware that this isn't advisable (according to "doctors" and "experts") but I can't stop. I'm also not convinced of the harm it supposedly does to...what, exactly? The other thing is that I seem to have some blood in there. Potentially gross-out details after the cut.

For the past few weeks, the Q-Tip from my right ear has been turning up with blood, and occasionally scabby stuff. Increasingly a lot of scabby stuff, which comes out of my ear even without a Q-Tip (for example, just now I had a little itch and rubbed my ear, and some scab came out). How concerned do I need to be?

It doesn't hurt, and I can't think of anything that could've cut or sharply poked my ear canal to draw blood. Where did the original injury come from? How much harm am I doing by continuing to Q-Tip it?
posted by witchen to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
 
The reason those 'doctors' and 'experts' say its bad is because often the Q-tip just shoves a lot of the wax into lumps that block your ear canal and therefore reduce your hearing, if not also provide a site for infections etc.

That said, yeah I do it too sometimes, although more like monthly than daily.
posted by easily confused at 9:07 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


You have ear wax for a reason. To protect your ear (and all the pathways your ear canal links to) from debris and infections. Every time you go at it with a q-tip, you're actually jamming and impacting the wax more than you are 'extracting' it. This can lead to bleeding and plenty more unpleasantries.

Here is my horror story [warning: gross] that I posted in response to a past question about q-tip use for cleaning ear wax. My advice: find another habit with which to scratch that 'itchy' desire to clean your ears - replace it with something like brushing your teeth or combing your hair, whatever. Be kind to your ears; don't q-tip them.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


My sister punctured her ear drum when she was q-tipping it and the cat startled her. I still do it, I have no cats. I also have very little ear wax. You can get scabs inside your ear for a number of reasons, most of them benign. I sometimes get them if I sleep with earplugs in and I sleep on it and sleep on it funny. Dry skin and or eczema could also do this. Standard thing: if it keeps up, see a doctor.
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 AM on April 9, 2016


I'm not trying to be provocative but you say your not convinced of the harm it will supposedly do at the same time you have scabs coming out of your ear. This sounds like denial. To what others have already said about shoving wax further in I will add leaving fibres from the swab behind and that earwax helps protect the skin in your ear. Q Tips were originally marketed for cleaning your ears and thats what people buy them for but it isn't because its good for you its because it feels good.
posted by Pembquist at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


If you must do something to your ears, use an ear syringe and water.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:18 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I haven't completely given up q-tip use (and I understand your addiction), but I've cut down. The way that I "scratch that itch" for ear-clearing is I wrap a tissue around my index finger and wipe out any water that way. It gives the satisfaction of clearing out your ear but doesn't go as deep as a q-tip.
posted by foxhat10 at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


The reason it feels good is because of a classic itch-scratch response. Your skin becomes inflamed and itchy, so you scratch it, which makes it more inflamed and itchy, which makes you scratch more, and so on. If you had a rash on any other part of your body, you wouldn't consider it normal and acceptable to continually scratch at it until it bled, but that is exactly what you are doing to the inside of your ears.
posted by firechicago at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


I q-tip after every shower. I've between doing so for 25 years and learned the habit from my Dad who's been doing it for ~50 years. We've never created a wax plug or needed professional cleaning or intervention. When I get scabs in my ear it's after creating a small cut with my fingernail or due to a pimple. If I don't remember that the scab is there, I disturb it, which leads to another scab... Getting a cut or pimple in my ear is thankfully rare. If you're getting ear canal scabs frequently have a doctor take a look in there.
posted by quince at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


People have already mentioned most of the problems with putting q-tips in your ears.

By compacting the earwax in your ear more deeply with a q-tip, you may end up with a conductive hearing loss. The injury to the ear canal from repeatedly scratching it with a Q-tip, can lead to infections of the ear canal. You may also perforate your ear drum which may heal itself, or progress to more severe issues with your middle ear.

So, don't stick a q-tip or any other foreign body in your ear canal.
posted by scalespace at 10:31 AM on April 9, 2016


Layperson's advice: Once I couldn't stop with q-tips either. Then I discovered soaking a cotton ball in hydrogen peroxide and dripping it into my ear. Relief. But it sounds like you need to let something in your ears heal before you try this.
posted by CMcG at 11:11 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have mild psoriasis in a few places, including my ear canal. Before it was diagnosed it used to itch like hell and come away pretty much daily as scaly / scabby skin (no blood though). It's treatable with a very mild steroid based liquid that i have to use maybe one week every 3 months to keep on top of things. Worth seeing a doctor, especially if you have eczema / psoriasis (or something that could be either of these) elsewhere on your body.
posted by bifter at 11:20 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm prone to a little ear eczema; that was my first thought when you mentioned 'scabby.' Blecch, but, usually easily treated with Rx cream. (And once treated, you should find the urge to poke around at your ears diminishes.)
posted by kmennie at 11:44 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


for the past few weeks, the Q-Tip from my right ear has been turning up with blood, and occasionally scabby stuff [...] a lot of scabby stuff [...] comes out of my ear even without a Q-Tip

These symptoms suggest a visit to your local friendly otolaryngologist.
posted by WCityMike at 12:10 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I bet if you stop cold turkey you won't itch. I never q-tip my ears because I hate the feeling but I also never feel itchy.
posted by pintapicasso at 12:32 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was also a Q-tip junkie and scorned the elbow advice for 25 years. Switching to a new noise cancelling headset seemed to make my earwax production run riot, so I was at them all the time for a few weeks. Sure enough, I impacted the earwax in my right ear and had to wait 4 days for a doctor visit. That lopsided fullness and hearing loss is just so freaking infuriating. Finally getting my ears bulbed made me feel like freaking Daredevil for about three days and was sweet, sweet relief. While most people don't report much discomfort from the bulbing process, I found it to be pretty painful. Because I don't want to deal with that again, I've switched to just swabbing around the opening to the ear canal but not inserting. It takes some serious willpower at first, but it's like stopping any other habit. You just get used to it.
posted by xyzzy at 12:54 PM on April 9, 2016


Hello! I asked a similar question recently.

I used Q-tips. When that wasn't enough or wasn't available, I used a fingernail. It's a bad idea on a quite spectacular level.

It turns out that Q-tips are basically the devil and the best advice I received was that, much like other shitty bad behavior, you have to just move the fuck past it.

If you are seeing blood you have caused a lesion in your ear. Unless you leave it alone it will get infected and more itchy and you might never be able to stop.

Go and see your primary care provider and listen to them when they tell you to stop. Exercise your excellent willpower in the time being.
posted by citands at 4:04 PM on April 9, 2016


My doctor and I equate Qtips to crack. He admitted he was also once an addict. After several years of earaches every other month, he told me that my Crack on a Stick had thinned out the covering of my ear drum. I don't know if he was jiving me but his words did get me to change my habit to a brief swish around the outer canal only. But the earaches continue to this day. Beware.
posted by Lornalulu at 4:28 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


another vote for STOP! an old roommate of mine punctured her ear drum with a q-tip when the towel wrapped around her head fell and weighed her head down!

this reminded me of this article, the strange life of q-tips.
posted by sabh at 5:07 PM on April 9, 2016


I can't think of anything that could've cut or sharply poked my ear canal to draw blood. Where did the original injury come from? How much harm am I doing by continuing to Q-Tip it?

This could easily be some kind of "friction burn" just from the Q-tip itself or from some minor piece of grit that you shoved around in your ear canal with a Q-tip. Who knows? At the very least you're not allowing whatever-it-is to heal because you keep poking at it with the Q-tip. You're basically asking "I have a cut that won't heal because I keep picking the scab." Well, c'mon, you know the answer is "Don't pick the scab."

For the past few weeks, the Q-Tip from my right ear has been turning up with blood, and occasionally scabby stuff. Increasingly a lot of scabby stuff, which comes out of my ear even without a Q-Tip (for example, just now I had a little itch and rubbed my ear, and some scab came out). How concerned do I need to be?

A few weeks? At least go to urgent care so someone can take a look inside and see what's going on.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2016


Aside from the most common problems with Q tipping your ears (earwax impaction and eardrum perforation or scratches to the ear canal) which have already been mentioned, I will mention that in my job at the emergency department I have seen a few times that the end of the Q tip can come off and get stuck in your ear. It's quite difficult to remove at home because it's just a piece of cotton and if you try to grab it with the tips of your fingers just wisps of cotton will come out. So I generally use something called "bayonet forceps" (they are as much fun as they sound!) to remove the tip.

As far as the scab issues you're having, it sounds just fine to start with primary care taking a look at it, unless it is easy for you to get in with an ENT.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:04 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


YOINKS. Okay, thanks for the reality check. In my heart, I know this isn't an urgent care issue, so I'll do my best to leave it alone and watch for signs of infection. I opened the bathroom drawer this music and heard the music from Requiem for a Dream. I guess it's time to stop.
posted by witchen at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


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