The push to minimize plastic and protect the environment is celebrating another small victory thanks to a recent move by Scotland, and it could be another step toward protecting ears and hearing health around the world.
It’s not plastic bags or straws. It’s a ban on single-use cotton swabs and the plastic they use.
According to reports, Scotland is now the first UK country to ban plastic cotton swabs. In a bill presented in September 2019 and put into effect in October 2019, the throw-away swabs will no longer have a home in the country. Experts believe the ban to be passed by English Parliament in April 2020. Backers estimated that almost 2 billion of the plastic cotton swabs are used in England each year.
“Single-use plastic products are not only wasteful but generate unnecessary litter than blights our beautiful beaches and green spaces while threatening our wildlife on land and at sea,” said Scotland’s environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham.
It’s a step forward for the environment, but could it also be a step forward for hearing health?
The danger of cotton swabs
It’s no secret that most of us have ear wax. For some, it’s a little; for others, it’s a lot. Either way, ear wax is an integral part of our ears.
Ear wax is a waxy substance produced in the outer ear canal to help protect the ear with its sticky consistency and antibacterial properties. As it moves through the ear canal with the help of our jaw movements, it picks up foreign particles and dead skin cells to carry them out of the ear. Without ear wax, we may be prone to itchiness in the ear canal and even increased infections.
That doesn’t stop many from trying to clean it out, though, and often that is with the dangerous help of cotton swabs. These disposable little tools can often do permanent damage to the ears and hearing whether it’s impacting ear wax, damaging the eardrum, or scratching the ear canal. Hearing healthcare professionals continue to warn against ever putting objects into ears, including cotton swabs. Many hope that as cotton swabs are banned for environmental reasons, those still using them will find safer options for ear cleaning.
How to clean the ear
While most hearing healthcare providers recommend leaving ear wax to do its job, there are times when it builds up and can cause discomfort. In these cases, cleaning the ear may become necessary. If you believe your ear wax has built up and needs to be removed, skip the swab and opt for one of these solutions:
- A professional ear wax cleaning – Schedule an appointment with your hearing health care provider to quickly and easily remove excess earwax in their office. This may include ear irrigation or removal with a specialized tool.
- Over the counter products at home – Discuss the best options with your hearing health care provider. They may recommend ear wax softener drops or ear irrigation. Not all at-home remedies are safe.
Take a stand for the environment and your ears by saying no to cotton swabs!