A man contracted a potentially deadly infection in his skull after using cotton buds to clean his ears.
The British man, 31, developed necrotising otitis externa – a bacterial infection that targeted the lining of his skull. After suffering from seizures and collapsing, he was rushed to hospital in Coventry where doctors made the discovery, reports the Sun.
On examining the man, they found a piece of cotton wool which had become lodged in one of his ears after he had used cotton buds to clean them out. It then became infected, which spread up through his ear canal and into his skull.
It turns out the man had been battling symptoms for up to five years, being treated for two severe ear infections in that time, before doctors realised what had happened.
The infection got so bad that before being taken to hospital he began to have headaches so severe they made him vomit, and he also started to have neurological symptoms, including struggling to remember people’s names.
He was taken for a CT scan on his brain, which showed two pus-filled abscesses in the bones at the base of his skull.
Some of the symptoms for the aggressive infection are not at all pleasant – if you’re squeamish, look away now.
Signs that you have necrotising otitis externa include persistent and foul-smelling yellow or green drainage from the ear – nice – as well as ear pain that gets worse when moving the head, hearing loss and persistent itching in the ear canal.
Sounds grim, doesn’t it?
Thankfully, the man made a full recovery after having minor surgery to remove the cotton wool, and an intensive two-week course of antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
But this doesn’t mean you have to have dirty ears for the rest of your life.
The NHS has specific guidance on how to clean your ears, saying on their website: “Don’t use your fingers or any objects like cotton buds to remove earwax. This will push it in and make it worse.”
They say that usually wax will just fall out on its own, meaning that you don’t really have to clean your ears. But if you do feel as though you have wax build-up, putting two to three drops of olive or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days should help. After two weeks the wax should fall out – usually at night when you’re lying down.
Although they look unbelievably satisfying, there’s no actual evidence that ear candles or ear vacuums get rid of earwax.