The question: Is it true that I shouldn’t use cotton swabs to clean my ears?
The answer: Whether it was mom or grandma who said it first, she was definitely right: You probably shouldn’t put anything in your ear that’s smaller than your elbow.
But in order to understand why you don’t need to swab out the ol’ ears, we first need to understand why we have earwax to begin with. That gross gunk, known medically as cerumen, is actually there for protection. “The purpose of earwax really is to keep your ear canal clean,” says Douglas Backous, M.D., chair of the hearing committee of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNSF) and director of hearing and skull base surgery at Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle.
Not only does earwax help to keep dust and dirt away from the eardrum, it also provides some antibacterial and lubricating perks. And — one of the body’s many wonders! — your ears basically clean themselves. Once earwax dries, every motion of your jaw, whether that’s chowing down on lunch or gabbing away with friends, helps move the old earwax out of the opening of your ear (much like as if it were riding an escalator, says Backous).