A man got an infection in his brain lining after using a cotton swab to clean out his ear

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After the swab was removed, the doctors removed the excess air cells and gave the man antibiotics.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
  • A man had a seizure, ear pain, and a brain lining infection following use of a cotton swab in his left ear, according to a case study in BMJ Case Reports. The swab had gotten stuck in his ear.
  • The man said he was prone to ear infections in the past.
  • Doctors were able to remove the cotton swab, and gave the man antibiotics to cure the infection.
  • Ear wax acts as a physical barrier that protects the ear from debris, but cleaning the ears with cotton swabs can push the wax further into the ear canal and cause inflammation or infection.

After using a cotton swab to clean his left ear, a 31-year-old man had a seizure and was taken to the emergency room, where doctors said he had an infection at the base of his skull, according to a new case study in BMJ Case Reports.

According to the report, the man was otherwise healthy, but was prone to regular ear infections. When he arrived in the emergency room, the swab was stuck in his ear. He was having a seizure and experiencing both ear pain and discharge.

The man also said that for four days prior, he felt nauseous, vomited, and had headaches and trouble remembering people's names.

The cotton swab had apparently trapped debris in the ear canal and caused the infection and symptoms. Doctors were able to remove the debris, and gave the man antibiotics to cure the infection.

Ten weeks after the incident, the man felt better. The infection cleared, and he had no lingering headaches, ear discharge, or ear pain, according to the report.

Although cotton swabs have been a reported cause of ear infections in the past, this is the first known case of a cotton swab causing a brain lining infection.

Ear wax is a naturally occurring substance that helps to protect the inner ear from dirt and debris, so removing the wax can also remove a protective layer and make the area more prone to infection. "It keeps the outer ear canal skin moist, allowing for the skin cells to be healthy and enabling the cells to continue shedding skin debris," Ana H. Kim, MD, the director of Otologic Research at Columbia University Medical Center, previously told INSIDER.

Cotton swabs are unnecessary, Kim said, and any ear wax can be left alone to do its job in keeping the area protected.

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