Warning: Step away from the cotton buds to clean your ear canals

By Malibongwe Tyilo from https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/

Although cotton buds are marketed as make-up application and removal aids, large numbers of consumers use them to clean their ears, a practice that continues despite numerous warnings from medical professionals. Here is why you should keep them out of your ears.

after observing his wife sticking wads of cotton on to a toothpick to clean their baby’s ears, Leo Gerstenzang developed the very first cotton-tipped swabs back in 1923. These were initially called Baby Gays, and a few years later, renamed Q-tips Baby Gays, giving birth to North America’s most widely used cotton bud brand, Q-tips.

It would be another 50 years before manufacturers started explicitly warning the public against using them to clean wax from the ear canal due to reports of medical concerns first published in 1972.

These days, the warning “do not use inside the ear canal”, or a version thereof, appears on the labels of various cotton bud brands. Nevertheless, they continue to find their way into millions of ear canals.

“The use of cotton buds inside ears has widely been condemned worldwide by otolaryngologists. This is due to well-documented complications including trauma, impacted ear wax, infection, and retention of the cotton bud. The most common mode of accidental penetrating ear injury in children is cotton-bud induced,” a team of researchers, all of them ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, wrote in a 2011 paper for the British Journal of General Practice.

They also surveyed patients at three primary care centres in the southeast of England, and found that some 76% of them used cotton buds to clean their ears at least once a week. Nothing about their paper was exactly breaking news. Not the use of cotton buds nor the risks associated with their use; such as impacted earwax, which can be caused by unintentionally pushing the wax deeper into the ear, causing build-up and severely limiting the ear’s self-cleaning capability.

Self-cleaning ears
The role of earwax in the ear canal, also known by its medical term, cerumen, is also well documented in various academic studies, such as this one from the Bhutan Health Journal: “[Cerumen] serves to protect, clean, and lubricate the skin of the ear canal … Thus ear has a self-cleansing mechanism … Cleaning of the ear canal is not only unnecessary but also potentially dangerous. Ear injuries caused by use of cotton bud are commonly seen in ENT practice. Cotton bud use may give rise to some dangerous complications. It is unnecessary and a dangerous practice.”

Dr Robert H Shmerling, a senior editor for Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing further clarifies: “Among other things, cerumen is a natural moisturiser, preventing the skin inside the ear from becoming too dry; traps dirt and dust before they can reach deep into the canal; absorbs dead skin cells and debris; prevents bacteria and other infectious organisms from reaching the inner ear.”

That is not to say that there are no cases where earwax might need to be cleaned out due to various medical conditions that affect a minority of people. But even then, the use of cotton buds is still not recommended.

As per Shmerling’s advice, “[doctors] recommend over-the-counter ear drops that can soften earwax and allow it to exit the ear more easily (with gentle irrigation, such as during a shower). Or, a healthcare provider can look inside your ear and use instruments specifically designed to remove earwax.”

Warnings on earbuds’ labels
Nevertheless, even with all the research, documented risks, as well as warnings on labels, the use of cotton buds to clean the ear continues. A situation that hasn’t been helped by marketing messages from manufacturers. One particularly telling example of how some leading manufacturers approached the challenge of selling a product for a purpose it was unsuited to, is a Q-tips advert that came out a whole decade after research initially pointed out the risks of cleaning the ear with cotton buds.

In the 30-second spot, which aired in 1982, the beloved late comedienne, Betty White, punts Q-tips as “the safe swab”. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, White says, “they feel nice and soft and safe when you use them on your eyes, or on your nose,” and while holding a Q-tips cotton bud against her ear, she continues, “or on your ea…” Just before she completes the sentence, she drops the cotton bud, gives a knowing smile, and continues, “or even when you drop them on your foot”. In that moment, a decade of warnings by medical professionals becomes a punchline, a knowing wink-wink.

While present-day manufacturers don’t exactly make a joke out of the risks associated with sticking cotton buds into your ears, some warnings on the labels of their products could arguably be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or altogether ignored by consumers.

This writer recently bought a pack of “Paper Stem Buds” from local retailer, Woolworths. The use recommendation on one side of the packaging clearly states them as being “ideal for make-up application and removal, as well as cleaning small areas”. On the other side of the pack, a warning reads: “Keep out of reach of children. When cleaning ears or nose, use gentle movements and take care not to insert the bud too deeply, as this can damage sensitive tissue. Do not insert into the ear canal.”

Fair enough.

However, advising consumers not to insert the buds into the ear canal, while also advising them not to insert too deeply when cleaning ears, arguably lacks the conviction and clarity provided by the above-quoted papers and many more, which is to do the safest thing by keeping them away from your ears.

As Shmerling concludes in his Harvard Health Publishing article: “Perhaps it’s just too tempting or satisfying. Perhaps no one reads the labels of the products they use. Or maybe the myths about earwax are too ingrained to be easily dispelled by facts. Whatever the reasons, now you know to stop putting cotton-tipped swabs into your ears.” DM/ML

In case you missed it, also read The link between hearing loss and dementia

below is from the latest majlis volume 26 number 06

A Sister provides the following remedy for earache:
Blackseed oil to remove ear wax and for earache
We drop a few drops of blackseed oil into the ear at night, placing cotton wool in it so it does not run out. It tends to soften the wax after about 3 nights’ applications. The wax either runs out bit by bit or we use a piece of cotton wool to remove excess wax.
We do not insert or push the cotton wool deep inside the ear as it might get stuck inside. We also dont use ear buds because that pushes wax further into ear and it can puncture the ear drum. Blackseed oil works much better than sweet oil. The last time I used sweet oil, it clogged my ears and I could not hear anything. Also, the blackseed oil not only softens the wax, it also relieves my ear from pain instantly when I have ear infection, Alhamdulillah. I have found it does not clog our ears. We do not go to doctors to have our ears syringed. The last time I went to a GP to have my ears syringed, she caused my ears to bleed and I had a lot of pain.

Black Seed and COVID-19: Australian Researchers found Nigella Sativa may help in treatment for COVID-19 infection

black seed oil
December 31, 2021
A team from the University of Technology in Sydney found an active ingredient of Nigella sativa or Kalonji can prevent the SARS-CoV-2, the virus leading to COVID-19, from causing a lung infection. Their study is published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

Australian researchers have found that seeds of the plant, Nigella sativa, better known as Kalonji, could be utilised in the treatment of COVID-19 infection. Black seed oil is extracted from Nigella sativa seeds and has been used in traditional medicine for over 2,000 years due to its many therapeutic benefits.
The flowering plant, native to north Africa and western Asia, has been used for centuries as a traditional remedy for multiple medical conditions, including inflammation and infections. A team from the University of Technology in Sydney found an active ingredient of Nigella sativa can prevent the SARS-CoV-2, the virus leading to COVID-19, from causing a lung infection.

“There is growing evidence from modelling studies that thymoquinone, an active ingredient of Nigella sativa, more commonly known as the fennel flower, can stick to the COVID-19 virus spike protein and stop the virus from causing a lung infection,” said lead author Kaneez Fatima Shad, Professor at the varsity.

“It may also block the ‘cytokine’ storm that affects seriously ill patients who are hospitalised with COVID-19,” Shad added.

The study is published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

Thymoquinone has been extensively studied in laboratories, including animal studies. These studies have shown that it can moderate the immune system in a good way, by preventing pro-inflammation chemicals such as interleukins from being released.

This gives thymoquinone a potential role as a treatment for allergic conditions such as asthma, eczema, arthritis conditions including rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, and even possibly multiple sclerosis.

The study details the mechanisms of action of Nigella sativa and thymoquinone and how they are a promising future treatment of COVID-19 infection. There have been many barriers to the development of Nigella sativa as a therapeutic agent in large part due to its poor natural gastrointestinal absorption.

“Advances in pharmacological development such as nanotechnology have seen the chance to overcome this barrier to enable its use as an effective oral medication. Furthermore, the drug has recently been successfully given to patients as a nasal spray and topical paste,” said co-author Dr Wissam Soubra, from the varsity.

Nigella sativa has been shown to be helpful in treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes mellitus. As an anti-inflammatory treatment, it has also been found to help patients with allergic rhinitis and sinusitis, eczema, osteoarthritis and childhood epilepsy.

It has also been proven to be effective in a laboratory environment in killing bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus that can cause a range of mild to severe infections if they enter the skin, and viruses including influenza.
Another study from Saudi Arabia evaluated the effectiveness of black seed oil as a supplement in patients with mild COVID-19 who were between 18 and 65 years. The intervention group received 500 mg of soft gel capsules twice daily for 10 days in addition to their standard treatment.
Initial results were published on Clinical Trials. The primary outcome measurement was the percentage of participants who showed clinical recovery within 14 days after treatment began. The team reported 62.1% of those receiving the black seed oil demonstrated recovery from mild COVID-19 while 36% of the control group recovered within 14 days.

Black Seed Oil and COVID-19 studies

As of November 2021, there are 4 published clinical studies of nigella sativa for treatment and prevention of COVID-19 (c19ns.com). Nigella sativa is even higher than ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in this COVID-19 drug league table for ‘all mortality (death) results’:

Consider Black Seed Oil for Short-Term Use to Reduce Health Risk

The Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) lists black seed oil as an alternative for prevention and treatment of COVID-19. They stress there is no “magic bullet” for COVID-19, yet:

“… a number of therapeutic agents have shown great promise for both the prevention and treatment of this disease including Ivermectin, Vitamin D, quercetin, melatonin, fluvoxamine, corticosteroids, curcumin (turmeric), Nigella sativa and antiandrogen therapy.”
The team recommends taking N. sativa with honey as they both have antimicrobial, antiviral, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects with proven safety profiles. They list N. sativa and honey in the prevention protocol for children and adolescents, and as an alternative for first-line treatment in the early treatment protocol at home.

While short-term use of black seed oil may be efficacious in the treatment of COVID-19, long-term use for prevention may have other unwanted effects. One study of the chemical composition of black seed oil shows that the majority of fatty acids are from linoleic acid, an omega-6 polyunsaturated fat or (PUFA).


Is there a specific number or way to have black seeds as a cure?


I would like to learn if there is any reliable narration that talks about how many grains of black seed Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used to take or the Sahabah (radiyallahu ‘anhum) would suggest consuming?

Is there any guideline in Islam on how a person should take black seed for health concerns?


The Hadith regarding the black seed is general.

Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) reports that he heard Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) say: “The black seed is a means of cure for every ailment except death”

(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith: 5688 and Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 2215)

Imam Bukhari (rahimahullah) has recorded a narration which states that Sayyiduna Galib ibn Abjar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) had become ill while travelling. Upon entering Madinah, Ibn Abi ‘Atiq (radiyallahu ‘anhu) visited him and advised saying: “[Treat him] with the black seed. Take five or seven seeds and crush them. Then put it into his nose from either side with a few droplets of oil for ‘Aaishah (radiyallahu ‘anha) informed me that she heard Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) say, ‘This black seed is a cure from all illnesses except from As sam’. ‘Aaishah (radiyallahu ‘anha) says, ‘I asked Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) what is as sam?’ He replied, ‘Death.'”

(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith: 5687)

Hafiz Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) has cited a narration wherein Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) advised someone to take twenty one black seeds, place it into a cloth and soak it overnight in water. The next day, he should put one seed into right nostril and two seeds into the left nostril. The following day, he should put two seeds into the right nostril and one seed into the left nostril and on the third day, one seed in the right nostril and two in the left.

After citing this Hadith, Hafiz Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) states, “We understand from that, that the meaning of this seed being a healing for every disease is that it should not be used on its own to cure every disease. Rather, sometimes it could be used on its own, sometimes mixed with other ingredients. It may be used ground up or otherwise. Sometimes it could be eaten, drunk, used like snuff, applied as a balm/bandage as well as used in other ways.”

(Fathul Bari, Hadith: 5688, vol 10 pg. 144)

Imam Ibn Qayyim (rahimahullah) has also suggested various different usages of black seed for different ailments, like mixing it with honey and water, boiling it with vinegar and applying it as a paste.

(Zadul Ma’ad, vol. 4 pgs. 273-275)

From the above, it is evident that treatment using the black seed will vary from illness to illness and could also differ from person to person. A person should therefore consult a medical professional/herbalist and they would prescribe accordingly.

And Allah Ta’ala Knows best.

Answered by: Moulana Suhail Motala

Approved by: Moulana Muhammad Abasoomar