cotton swabs

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It's hard to resist cotton swabs

Even though you've heard a thousand times that you shouldn't stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear, you may be doing it anyway. "We have such a strong sentiment in our culture that ears have to be clean that people take dangerous measures," says Melynda Barnes, MD, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon with ENT and Allergy Associates in New York City. There's also the satisfying clean-ear feeling that can be a factor. She's seen people stick safety pins, car keys and acrylic nails in their ears, and the results are not pretty. It's possible to scratch the skin of the ear canal and introduce bacteria, causing infection. You can also push wax further down, leading to temporary hearing loss. And, worst-case scenario, "we see eardrum ruptures, bleeding from the ear canal—I've even seen the head of a cotton swab stuck in the ear," she says. Although one small found that 97 percent of cotton-swab-induced ruptures within the study sample healed on their own within two months, a rupture can be painful and make hearing difficult—you don't want this to happen to you. Trust us.