Woman Who Cleaned Ear With Cotton Swab Left With 'Paper-thin' Skull From Bacterial Infection That Ate Away Bone

An Australian woman has warned of the dangers of misusing cotton swabs after a life-threatening infection eroded her skull and left her with permanent hearing loss.

The woman identified only as Jasmine told That's Life she cleaned her ears every night with cotton buds. Her hearing in her left ear had been fading for a few years, and an "infuriating" noise came and went. The 37-year-old's ear had started to ache, and she struggled to hear her sons Dylan, 10, and Cody, eight.

Jasmine's doctor diagnosed her with an ear infection, and sent her home with a course of antibiotics. She carried on cleaning her ear with a swab, and began to notice blood on the cotton.

Another doctor advised her to take a hearing test. Jasmine was "horrified" to discover she had moderate deafness.

An ear, nose and throat specialist performed a CT scan on Jasmine. Assessing the results, he told her she should have visited him four or five years ago.

Tests revealed that cotton swab fibers had become stuck in her ear over five years, and got infected. "You need surgery yesterday," the surgeon told her.

"The cotton had been collecting and festering for as long as five years, and my skull bone behind the ear was paper-thin. I had no idea that a hidden killer was wedged inside my ear!" Jasmine told That's Life.

Surgeons cut out the infected tissue, and rebuilt her ear canal. A surgeon told Jasmine she had been pushing the swab "way too far" into her ear and "much too regularly." He told her: "If you'd waited any longer, you'd be dead."

Jasmine urged others to visit the doctor as soon as they notice something wrong with their ear.

"If I'd gone when I first started hearing the noise, I could've saved my hearing," she told That's Life. "I now try to warn everyone of the dangers of misusing cotton buds."

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A stock image of a woman cleaning her ear with a cotton swab. A woman suffered an infection after using the sticks incorrectly. Getty

While cotton swabs are widely thought of as a safe and appropriate tool for cleaning the ears, experts warn against their use.

Carl Philpott, honorary secretary of ENT UK, the professional membership body representing ear, nose and throat surgery in the United Kingdom, told Newsweek: "For most people wax production is normal and the ears are self-cleaning; a few people produce too much and need help to clear them."

He said it's common for ears to become infected due to a foreign body entering the canal.

"Cotton buds [swabs] can be used to clean the entrance to the ear canal but should not be placed into the ear canal—rule of thumb—nothing smaller than your elbow should be inserted in the ear. Pushing cotton buds into the ear can cause the wax to impact," he warned.

Philpott said using sodium bicarbonate ear drops is the safest way to clean the ears.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery similarly advises against putting anything inside the ears.

"You may see some earwax come out on a cotton swab, bobby pin, paperclip, or other item you put in your ear canal, but you are really only pushing earwax back into your ear, which may cause problems," the body warns on its website.

"Putting things in your ears irritates them. You can also injure your ear by putting a hole in an eardrum, cutting or scratching the ear canal skin, or even causing an ear infection."

The organization also stresses ear candling is unsafe, and can risk burning the ear canal, causing a blockage from the candle wax, an infection, or creating a hole in the eardrum.

This article has been updated with comment from Carl Philpott.

Woman Who Cleaned Ear With Cotton Swab Left With 'Paper-thin' Skull From Bacterial Infection That Ate Away Bone | Health