Local Study Tracks Child Hospitalizations From Cotton Swab Injuries

May 9, 2017

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While the common cotton tip applicator may be used for household cleaning, crafts and applying cosmetics, researchers in Columbus say they're also causing injuries to children.

Mike Foley explains.

Whether referred to as a cotton tip applicator, cotton swab or the popular-branded Q-tip, a study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital found the products sending a significant number of children to U.S. emergency departments with ear injuries. The 21-year-study began in 1990 and documented 263,000 injuries to children under the age of 18. That’s about 34 injuries per day during the length of the analysis. Despite product label warnings and recommendations from health officials, lead researcher Dr. Kris Jatana says kids are still using the cotton tips to clean their ears.

“Despite us seeing a gradual decline in the number of injuries during the study period, the rate of injury is still unacceptably high. That’s a big concern for us.” 

Jatana says ear canals are usually self-cleaning. Using cotton tip applicators to do the job pushes wax closer to the ear drum, which can lead to hearing loss and ear infections. Pushing the tips too far in can rupture the ear drum. The study, recently published online in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that most kids seen in emergency departments were under the age of 8, and handling the swabs themselves. Nearly all were treated and released. Still, health officials say it’s an emergency room visit that can be avoided simply by not using the products to clean the ears.