Ear & Balance

What Happens When You ‘Clean’ Your Ear with a Cotton Swab

January 16, 2020
what happens when you clean your ear with a cotton swab

Many Singaporeans simply love the feeling of digging into their ears – it’s the ultimate shiok! Some people don’t like the feeling of wax in their ears. So, they relentlessly dig into their ears using cotton swabs to remove excess wax and debris. For others, getting a cotton swab and digging into the ears has become a habit.


However, many medical experts agree that it does more harm to your ears than good. Ear wax actually helps to protect and lubricate your ears, keeping it from being dry and itchy.


There are various negative consequences that can happen as a result of ear cleaning using a cotton swab.



You push wax deeper into the ear canal


Push wax deeper



You have a self-sufficient, natural cleaning system in the ear canal that helps to sweep old earwax out of the opening of your ear as you talk or chew. This means the ear canal does not need to be cleaned.


So, what happens when you insert a cotton swab to ‘clean’ inside the ear canal? Because the cotton swab is actually too big for the ear canal, it will only push the ear wax as well as debris deeper against the eardrum. This causes blockage and it will be harder for the self-cleansing mechanism of the ear to remove it. You may experience ear discomfort, tinnitus, decreasing hearing level in the affected ear and a secondary ear infection. Get your ear examined by a doctor or an ENT Specialist who can perform safe removal of ear wax under the guidance of a microscope.



You risk bleeding of the ear


As you insert cotton swabs into your ear canal, you’ll be probing through the curves of the ears to find the right spot to clean or stimulate pleasure from the itch. When you do this, there is a chance that you may damage the very thin skin of your ear canal, resulting in pain, bleeding and even infections.


The eardrum is a delicate structure that separates the outer ear from the middle ear (tympanic) cavity. It is paper-thin and can be can be easily ruptured from ear digging. Rupturing the eardrum is painful and can result in hearing loss and ear infections. It usually takes several weeks to months for the eardrum to heal without treatment but if the ruptured eardrum is persistent,  you should consult an ENT Specialist for surgical repair.



You risk infections


Indian Boy Ear Pain


Earwax serves as a protective barrier and helps to prevent outer ear infections. It keeps dirt, dust and debris away from the eardrum, and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. There are also good bacteria in the earwax, to keep the ear canal healthy. As you push your cotton swab into your ear, there is a small likelihood of a piece of the cotton swab or its fibers getting lodged and stuck inside. An impacted earwax or dislodged cotton bud from ear digging can cause ear infections.


Instead of using a cotton swab, gently clean the outside of your ears using a washcloth. If there is an excessive amount of wax produced by the ear or heavy earwax build-up, see your doctor to get it removed safely. Similarly, if you’ve been experiencing symptoms such as bloody drainage, hearing loss, or ear pain, visit an ENT Specialist for early treatment.



Medically reviewed by Dr Gan Eng Cern

When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

  • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
  • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

Dr Gan Eng Cern

Dr Gan Eng Cern is a distinguished ENT doctor with fellowship training. In addition to his clinical practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Singapore, Dr. Gan has contributed to the academic field as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. He is recognised for his extensive research work, with numerous contributions to reputable international ENT journals. Dr Gan is also highly sought after as a speaker and has shared his surgical knowledge as a surgical dissection teacher at various prominent ENT conferences and courses.


  • 2020 – Reader’s Choice Gold Award for Best ENT Specialist (Expat Living Singapore)
  • 2016 – Best Educator Award (Eastern Health Alliance)
  • 2016 – “Wow” Award (Patient Compliment)
  • 2014 – Eastern Health Alliance Caring Award – Silver
  • 2014 – 19th Yahya Cohen Memorial Lectureship (awarded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine Singapore for best scientific surgical paper)
  • 2012 – Human Manpower Development Award (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
  • 2007 – Singhealth Best Doctor Award


  • MBBS – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
  • MRCS (Edin) – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • MMed (ORL) – Master of Medicine in ENT (National University of Singapore)
  • FAMS – Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore

Why Choose Dr Gan Eng Cern


Reliable & Reputable ENT Expert

Experienced and patient ENT Specialist who has your best interests at heart. We aim to provide you with accessible and specialized care for any ENT condition in a comfortable setting.


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Our friendly staff will assist you to the best of our ability and we are happy to accept most insurance providers and assist with E-filing with relevant insurance providers or Medisave.


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Our ENT Specialist, Dr Gan Eng Cern, will be able to diagnose and offer personalised treatments for your specific ENT condition. You can expect a high level of ENT care in a spacious setting with in-house minor surgical, endoscopy, allergy testing and microscopy services.


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There are various financial options available for you to ensure that you are able to receive the most optimal treatment and care. Our ENT clinic staff will be able to assist you with your medical insurance claims and work with your chosen healthcare organization to minimize the hassle and paperwork required. In some cases, you may be able to utilise the funds in your Medisave account to defray part of the costs of your treatment. As our clinic is accredited by the Medisave board, we are able to process your claims from your Medisave for certain clinic procedures.

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