I'm a Q-tip user. Every day.
It's my favorite part of the morning routine. Ok, maybe coffee trumps, but it's my favorite part after that. Out of the warm shower, wrap up in a fuzzy robe, and grab those Q-tips. A little swish, a little swirl, check to see what goodies I found, and I'm ready to start the day.
Hmmm. Except that doctors say you're not supposed to use Q-tips. "Don't put anything in your ear smaller than an elbow," I was taught to instruct patients.
So I'm sorry. Sorry to all those people who feel guilt about using Q-tips. I've tainted a most enjoyable ritual. I'm guilty of propogating a medical myth.
Just like your dear grandma is full of conventional wisdom, so is medical education. We as a physician community believe a lot of things that just aren't proven, but have been passed down from generation to generation. There was recently an article exposing eight common medical myths, but they didn't include the Q-tip.
Here's what I think. Some people make soft earwax, that drains easily. Some people make hard earwax, that gets stuck, dries out, and gets impacted. Both sets of people use Q-tips. When someone comes into the office with impacted earwax, they get asked the question. And when they guiltily admit to Q-tip usage, they get a finger wagging admonishment.
I did a cursory journal search regarding this issue. As expected, it hasn't been studied too much. I did find one article from 1994 that showed that Q-tip use was associated with cerumen impaction in left side but not on the right side. Hmmm. Not sure I buy that one.
Now, there are of course some common sense caveats. Don't push the Q-tip in too far. Don't use Q-tips if your ear hurts. And if you break the tip of a Q-tip off in your ear (not sure how one does that) please do not try to get it out with another one. And if you do try to get it out with another one, don't wait several weeks to fess up to your doctor about what you did ('cause then by the time she fishes it out it's pretty nasty.)
If you're one of those unlucky people who makes dry, sticky ear wax that gets impacted, it's probably best to avoid Q-tips, and see your doctor regularly to get cleaned out. If you're like most people, be smart, and swish away. Guilt-free.
And now the challenge: to all you docs out there, stop ruining this most innocent of pleasures.