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Tue, 19 Mar, 2019Joanita Wibowo

Man develops deadly brain infection after cleaning ear with cotton buds

Man develops deadly brain infection after cleaning ear with cotton buds

It’s hard to resist the temptation to clean the insides of our ears with cotton buds, despite warnings on the label and health experts telling us otherwise. However, this near-fatal case may change your mind.

An English man has sworn off cleaning his ears with cotton swabs after developing an infection that spread from his hearing to the lining of his brain.

The 31-year-old man began developing the infection after the tip of a cotton bud he used got stuck in his ear canal, according to a case published in BMJ Case Reports earlier this month.

He was experiencing seizures, headaches, ear pain and discharge before being rushed to hospital, Live Science reported.

The small amount of cotton left turned out to trap debris and induce a severe bacterial infection that progressed to the base of his skull and moved into the lining of his brain, said lead author Dr. Alexander Charlton, a member of the team of ear, nose and throat specialists involved in the man's treatment at University Hospital Coventry in England.

Fortunately, Charlton and other doctors were able to remove the debris through a minor surgery. The patient was found to have necrotizing otitis externa, an infection in the soft tissue of the area from the outside of the ear to the eardrum. After almost a week in hospital, the man is expected to be free from long-term hearing issues.

However, he was ordered by Charlton not to use cotton buds in his ears anymore, as the doctor said they have been linked to infections and punctured ear drums. "They can only cause problems," Charlton said.

Health practitioners acknowledge that cotton buds are a popular ear-cleaning tool among the laymen. "I think that most people will have used them at some stage," Dr Joe Kosterich told Virtual Medical Centre.

"In fact, they are something that shouldn’t be used. We think of them as being soft, but when you press on a cotton wool bud, they’re not actually all that soft. It is possible to perforate the eardrum with them."

Ana Kim, MD, the director of Otologic Research at Columbia University Medical Centre also said removing ear wax might make ears more prone to infection. "It keeps the outer ear canal skin moist, allowing for the skin cells to be healthy and enabling the cells to continue shedding skin debris," she told INSIDER.

Do you use cotton buds regularly? Let us know in the comments below.