The One Body Part You Should Never Clean, According to Doctors
This body part is "self-cleaning," experts say—and you're doing more harm than good by cleaning it.
Every day when you get in the shower, you likely scrub your body down from head to toe. Of course, it's key to clean certain crevices on the daily, but some body parts aren't meant to be cleaned constantly. In fact, by cleaning your ears, you're likely doing more harm than good. "Using cotton tip applicators to clean the ear canal not only pushes wax closer to the ear drum, but there is a significant risk of causing minor to severe injury to the ear," Kris Jatana, MD, an otolaryngologist and senior author of a study on the subject, said in a statement. Read on to learn more, and for the only spots you should scrub regularly, These Are the Only 3 Body Parts You Need to Wash Every Day, Doctor Says.
"The two biggest misconceptions I hear as an otolaryngologist are that the ear canals need to be cleaned in the home setting, and that cotton tip applicators should be used to clean them—both of those are incorrect," Jatana added. "The ear canals are usually self-cleaning."
The study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 2017, compiled 20 years worth of data from 1990 to 2010 and found that more than 263,000 children under the age of 18 had been admitted to U.S. hospitals for ear injuries as a result of using cotton swabs. Of those hundreds of thousands of injuries, ear cleaning was the most frequently documented cause (73 percent of recorded injuries).
According to Jatana and his team of researchers, the first time medical concerns were brought up about cotton swabs was in 1972—nearly 50 years after they were first created. This study from the '70s indicated that there were reports of tympanic membrane perforation (TMP), otitis externa, and cerumen impaction after using cotton swabs. And this created a spur of health officials advising against the use of cotton swabs in the ear canal and manufactures creating warning labels on their products.
Despite this early study and subsequent warnings, people continue to regularly use cotton swabs to clean their ears. A study from 2011 found that 68 percent of people still report using cotton swabs in their ear, with 96 percent saying they use them to clean their ear of earwax.
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"Nearly all of the patients with cotton-tip applicator (CTA) related ear injuries were treated and released, but this does not imply that some of the injuries were not serious," the researchers stated in the 2017 study. "Typically, a retained foreign body in the ear canal causes no complications if removed in a timely manner, but when not removed, the presence of a CTA as a chronic ear foreign body has been linked to intracranial complications, including brain abscess and fatal meningitis." And for the things in your life that could use a scrub, check out 20 Things in Your Home You Didn't Realize You Should Be Cleaning.