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HomeHealth articlesear blockageWhy You Should Not Use Earbuds?

Say 'NO' to Earbuds

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Say 'NO' to Earbuds

3 min read


If you have a practice of cleaning your ears often with cotton buds, you must read this below article.

Written by

Dr. Deepthi. M

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Preetha. J

Published At July 27, 2017
Reviewed AtJune 20, 2022


Cleaning the ears with a cotton bud called Q-tips may feel good, and it might be a very easy and simple technique, but it can also be harmful. It will not only dry out the ear and make the build-up worse, but it will also lead to itchiness, hearing loss, and infections of all kinds.

What Is the Anatomy of the Ear?

The three main parts of the ear are the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear is composed of cartilage and skin. The three different parts of the outer ear are:

  • Tragus.

  • Helix.

  • Lobule.

Ear Canal:

The ear canal starts from the outer ear to the eardrum. This canal is almost an inch in length. The outer one-third of the canal comprises cartilage, and the inner two-thirds is bone.


The eardrum is also called the tympanic membrane. It is about the size of a ten-cent coin and is the same size in the newborn baby as in the adult.

Middle Ear:

The space which is present inside the eardrum is called the middle ear. The three of the smallest bones of the body are found in the middle ear. They are the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. These three bones together are medically called the middle ear ossicles.

What Is Earwax?

Earwax is a natural secretion of the ears, which contains dead skin cells and sebum. This sebum is a lubricant secreted by the hair inside the ear. The function of the earwax is to trap the dust entering the ear and prevent it from going deep inside. Wax is produced only in the outer one-third of the ear canal, a hair-bearing area. Earwax is not a waste product, but it is a very beneficial secretion. Newly formed wax is transparent in color, and when oxidized later, it becomes brown or black. Usually, after a few days, this wax is naturally pushed out of the ear canal and falls off while sleeping or taking a bath.

What Are Earbuds?

Earbuds are made up of tightly rolled cotton. Using earbuds interferes with the normal self-cleaning mechanisms of the external ear canal. Cleaning induces wax formation, and the wax needs to be cleaned as the build-up interferes with hearing. And this becomes a vicious cycle. The ear loses its capacity to self-clean.

The skin covering the ear canal is very thin, where the outer layers are regularly shed just like skin elsewhere. This is done by slender hair-like structures called cilia present on the surface of the external ear canal.

Any injury to the skin, even a minor trauma like çleaning with earbuds, disturbs the automated wax clearance mechanisms, and the wax gets accumulated. When produced, earwax, a clear fluid, gets oxidized and turns brown or black when collected and, in due course, gets hardened. This hardened wax blocks the ear canal entirely and causes an earache and decreased hearing.

Never use any instruments like safety pins or keys to clean the wax. These can deposit a fungal infection over the injured crevices of the external ear canal. This condition is known as otomycosis. When infected, especially in diabetic patients, it produces severe pain, itching, and a watery discharge, occasionally mixed with blood.

What Happens When You Insert an Earbud?

Earbuds increase your risk of ear infections. So the moment the earbuds are inserted into the ear, they can introduce dirt and bacteria into the ears. This can cause allergic reactions, rashes, or even infections. Apart from carrying dirt and bacteria, earbuds can also induce ear wax build-up.

When the earbud is inserted, the wax, which is limited only to the outer part of the ear, will be pushed deeper inside to the place where it cannot be naturally expelled. So after a while, the wax will start accumulating in the ear and goes even deeper by eventually hitting the eardrum. This will make the person hard to hear. Stagnation of this wax for a long time can even infect the eardrum leading to severe pain.

How Can Blocked Ears Be Treated?

The best way to treat accumulated wax is to use wax-softening ear drops. Once the wax softens, it should be cleaned by a professional using either an ear suction or a syringe. Syringing by yourself is dangerous and can cause a problem in the eardrum. But using wax softening ear drops also does not sometimes help because these wax may absorb the ear drops and swell up, leading to pain and hearing loss. Therefore, you should not do this method at home but visit an ENT specialist who will use appropriate instruments to remove the wax.

Is Wax Removal a Painful Procedure?

While using syringing or wax hooks, many patients may have complaints of pain. With the arrival of microscopes and endoscopes with magnification, wax removal is easy and can be achieved without pain or discomfort. So always visit your ENT specialist, especially the one who has these endoscopes or microscopes.


There is no need to clean your ears regularly because ears have an automatic cleaning mechanism. The skin lining the ear is unique because it is the only skin in the body that can expel wax. Therefore, only a few people tend to accumulate wax even when not using earbuds. Cleaning with earbuds can cause further wax accumulation or may induce infection, so it should always be avoided.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is It Safe to Use Q-Tips?

Many medical experts warn people not to use Q-tips, which can harm human ears. Using Q-tips leads to problems like infection, injury, and earwax impaction. When inserted into the ears, Q-tip or other objects push the earwax further inside and will be difficult to remove and cause hearing problems.


Will Using Q-Tips Push Earwax?

A Q-tip inside the ear can push earwax further deep inside the ears. This makes the removal of earwax very difficult. It may also lead to ear complications like earwax impaction, irritation, and injury or rupture of the eardrum leading to hearing loss.


Is It Possible to Cure Ear Block?

There are multiple methods to cure a clogged ear, from simple home remedies to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Firstly, the reason for ear block needs to be identified, and any of the following methods can be implicated:
 - Nasal decongestants.
 - Topical nasal steroids.
 - Dripping mineral oils.
 - OTC medications.
 - Ear irrigation.
 - Using wax compress or hot shower.


What Is the Cause of Ear Block?

There are many causes for ear blocks. Both children and adults can acquire it. However, children get their ears blocked due to frequent colds.
 - Excess earwax in the ear canal.
 - Water in the ear.
 - Allergies.
 - Sinus infection.
 - Change in altitude.
 - Middle ear infections.


Why Do Ear Blocks Happen Even Without Wax?

There can be various reasons for experiencing blocked ears, one of which is the presence of ear wax. Other causes include fluid buildup in the ear, foreign objects in the ear, loud noise, ear infections, severe head trauma, and severe changes in air pressure, like traveling in a plane.


How Can I Unblock a Blocked Ear at Home?

There are many home remedies to unclog an ear, like, pinching the nose closed with the fingers and blowing air by keeping the mouth closed. This generates pressure behind the nose, opening the eustachian tube. This method is called the Valsalva maneuver. Also, try yarning, swallowing, and applying warm compression near the ear.


How Long Does a Plugged Ear Last?

The ears will unblock themselves within a few hours to days if the ear clogs due to high air or water pressure. But in case of infection, patience is required for the ear to become normal. The body typically requires approximately one to two weeks to eliminate the infection.


When Does a Clogged Ear Become a Matter of Concern?

Clogged ears caused due to congestion do not require medical attention, and they will cure on their own within two days. It becomes a matter of concern only if there are any signs of ear infections like fever, severe ear pain, fluid discharge, fullness and blockage, itching, and hearing loss. Also, if the symptoms persist long, medical attention is required.


What Is the Best Way to Dissolve Ear Wax Fastly?

To remove the earwax wholly and fast, it is necessary to consult a doctor. They use specialized equipment to visualize and pull out the wax. Nowadays, many over-the-counter (OTC) earwax softens, such as carbamide peroxide, dilute the hardened earwax, and make removal easy.


What Are the Symptoms of a Clogged Ear?

When the eustachian tube becomes obstructed, it can result in a blocked ear. The symptoms include ear pain, a feeling of fullness in the ear, hearing loss, ringing or noises, pain or infection in the ears, dizziness, cough, discharge with or without odor from the ear, and itchiness in the ear.


Is Ear Pressure a Matter of Concern?

Ear pressure is a common condition experienced by most individuals. It can happen due to changes in altitude, allergies, colds, and accumulating earwax. The condition typically resolves within a few hours or days, returning to normal. Home remedies can correct it. Persistent pain, lack of improvement in symptoms with home remedies, and potential hearing loss are signs that should raise concerns.
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Dr. Deepthi. M
Dr. Deepthi. M

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


ear blockage
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