Man Allegedly Had Almost-Fatal Brain Infection After Cleaning Ears With Cotton Bud


Last Updated on 2020-11-12 , 6:57 pm

I’ve always wondered:

“How do you differentiate good habits… from bad habits?”

I mean, sure; society has taught us to associate certain acts with bad habits. Digging your nose, eating your earwax, using your Barbie doll as a flush… they’re all bad habits, or so society taught.

Yet, what about supposedly ‘clean’ habits? Take, for example, the usage of a cotton bud to clean your ears.

Image: James Clarke /

With cotton buds, that annoying earwax that’s religiously growing in your ear can finally be retrieved, salvaging you from days and days of irritation and frustration. Surely, surely, such an act can be considered a clean habit?

Well, as it turns out, not quite.

Just recently, a 31-year-old British man was reported to have sustained a potentially deadly brain infection. And the believed cause of it?

The usage of cotton buds to clean the inside of his ears.

What happened?

According to a report by Live Science,  the unidentified man had developed a case of necrotising otitis externa, which actually started in his ear canal before infecting the bone at the base of his skull; subsequently proceeding upward into the lining of his brain, the meninges. 

(Note: Necrotising otitis externa is defined as a bacterial infection that targets the lining of the skull.)


Yet, do you know the scariest thing about it all?

The infection had apparently been spreading in his ear and brain for around 5 years before it was discovered.

Now I bet you’re wondering; surely he must have sensed something amiss during those five years? Well, that’s a definitive yes, as the man has actually gone to consult doctors before, citing pain and hearing loss in his left ear over the years.

The doctors, however, only treated two severe ear infections, and failed to absolve the root cause of it all. As a result, the man was left with headaches so bad he reportedly puked.

Indeed, it wasn’t until he started to experience neurogolical symptoms such as seizures and inability to recall names, and his subsequent collapse and hospitalisation in Coventry, that his condition was finally unearthed. After some tests, doctors discovered two pus-filled abscesses in the bones at the base of his skull.

Amazingly, the doctors were far from turned off like everyone else would be; they dug further and uncovered the potential cause of it all: the tip of a cotton bud. 

Apparently, the infected cotton wool was encased in wax when it was found, and it was surrounded by debris upon retrieval.

This is one lucky man

You would think that for the majority of people, a discovery five years too late would surely have had life-threatening consequences. But as it turns out, this man is one ‘lucky’ chap as he managed to make a full recovery, following a minor surgery to extract the cotton wool.

Thank goodness indeed.

But of course, his recovery process wasn’t without complications. For one, he had to go on an intensive two-week course of antibiotics to ensure that there will be no more infection. And to exemplify, some of the symptoms that accompany this infection include chronic and foul-smelling yellow or green pus oozing out from the ear, pain in the ear, hearing loss as well as itchiness that won’t fade from the ear canal.


Proper use of cotton buds

And so, that raises the all-important question:

Should we still use cotton buds?

Well, this is a subjective one. For one, cotton buds are definitely safe, as long as you use them properly. According to World Of Buzz, you should only use cotton buds to clean the external parts of your ears and not the inside, as this will only serve to push the earwax in and in the process, worsen it.

Leave the earwax alone

As mentioned, the use of cotton buds is a subjective one, because there’s also talk of leaving your earwax alone. Before you dismiss me for being a filthy hypocrite, however, just hear me out. According to NHS, earwax will eventually fall out on its own, so it’s fine if you leave it to its own devices.

Should you really feel uncomfortable with the notion, however, you can always opt for either of these methods:

  • Put two to three drops of olive or almond oil in your ear twice a day for a few days
  • Visit the pharmacist for ear drops to soften the wax
  • See a doctor to flush or suck out the wax

Honestly speaking, I’ll advise the first two.


I don’t think I’ll appreciate a doctor sucking me off, thank you very much.

Featured Image: Shaynepplstockphoto /