We have all probably been guilty of using cotton buds to clean our ears at some point and if you are one of them then you might just want to stop doing so. That’s because a 31-year-old British man was reported to have suffered a potentially deadly brain infection after he used cotton buds to clean the inside of his ears.
Based on a report by Live Science, the unidentified man developed necrotising otitis externa which started in his ear canal, before it infected the bone at the base of his skull and continued upward into the lining of his brain, the meninges. Necrotising otitis externa is defined as a bacterial infection that targets the lining of the skull and this case was reported in British Medical Journals on March 6 as well although it is unclear when did this happen.
However, this infection had been spreading in his ear and brain for about five years before doctors discovered it and they were shocked. That’s really long! The man had apparently been suffering from symptoms of the infection for five years but did not realise it.
He told doctors that he had experienced pain and hearing loss in his left ear over the years but when he went to the doctors, he was only treated for two severe ear infections. The situation deteriorated until he had headaches that were so bad, the pain made him vomit.
The infection was not discovered until he started to experience neurological symptoms such as seizures and being unable to remember people’s names, before finally collapsing and being taken to the hospital in Coventry. The doctors ran some tests including a CT scan on his brain before they found out that there were two pus-filled abscesses in the bones at the base of his skull. That sounds bad!
Upon further inspection, they discovered the tip of a cotton bud lodged in one of his ears after he had used cotton buds to clean them out. The infected cotton wool was already encased in wax and surrounded by debris when they removed it from his ear.
Luckily for the man, he managed to make a full recovery after a minor surgery was done to remove the cotton wool and he was put on an intensive two-week course of antibiotics to ensure that there would be no more infection. Some of the symptoms that accompany this infection include persistent and foul-smelling yellow or green pus coming out from the ear, pain in the ear, hearing loss and itchiness that won’t go away in the ear canal.
Besides, cotton buds should be used to clean the external parts of your ears and not the inside as this will push the earwax in and make it worse. In fact, the NHS advises people to leave the earwax alone as it will usually fall out on its own. Alternatively, you can put two to three drops of olive or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days. Otherwise, you can visit the pharmacist for ear drops to soften the wax or see a doctor to flush or suck out the wax if you feel that it is irritating you.
Remember to always seek professional medical advice if you are experiencing any health issues!