Cotton Swab

Man catches life-threatening infection in skull after using cotton bud to clean ear

A man suffered serious seizures and collapsed, after contracting a life-threatening infection in his skull - all because he tried to clean his ears with a cotton bud.

The British man, who was 31 years old when the fatal infection occurred, is believed by doctors at University Hospital Coventry to have contracted a bacterial infection called a necrotising otitis externa, which targeted the lining of his skull.

MRI scanner Credit: Getty

This is all part of a report in the British Medicine Journal, who explain that the man had been experiencing pain and hearing loss in his ear for an estimated period of around five years, and had been in and out of hospital several times.

It took a seizure for doctors to give the man a CT scan, and that's when doctors - including Ears, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist Dr. Alexander Charlton - discovered the cause of the man's health issues: a piece of cotton from a cotton swab, lodged deep in his ear.

Eventually, ENT surgeons looked inside the man's skull, and that's when they discovered two abscesses in the base of his skull, located near the left ear canal, which is when they noticed the piece of cotton.

"They [cotton swabs] can only cause problems," explained Dr Charlton to Live Science, saying that the man had likely contracted a severe bacterial infection that began in the ear canal, moved into the base of his skull, and eventually into the lining of his brain.

Brain scan Credit: Getty

Meanwhile, the man explained that 10 days before the seizure, he'd been experiencing pain and discharge from his left ear, as well as headaches. The case report also states that he was having difficulty remembering names.

Since the operation, the man involved spent a week in hospital and about two months on a round of anitibiotics, as the journal explained:

"At 10 weeks, the patient remained well, with no neurological deficit and no residual ear symptoms, and CT demonstrated complete resolution of the intracranial abscesses."

Since then, he's sworn off using cotton swabs to clean his ears ever again. Fortunately, he did not suffer any long term problems with his hearing or neurological function.

Cotton swab Credit: Getty

In order to avoid a similar fate to the man above, the NHS says that the correct way to clean out your ears is not to use cotton swabs or your fingers - rather to put drops of almond of olive oil in your ears. Then, around two weeks' worth of earwax should fall out.

"Don’t use your fingers or any objects like cotton buds to remove earwax. This will push it in and make it worse. Earwax usually falls out on its own. If it doesn’t and blocks your ear, put 2 to 3 drops of olive or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days."

"There’s no evidence that ear candles or ear vacuums get rid of earwax," the NHS explained.