Turns Out Cotton Swabs Can Potentially Kill You

It seems like every day presents us with terrifying news about some mundane object that could, it turns out, inflict serious damage: contact lenses, eyeliner, and even whipped-cream containers. Today, that item is a cotton swab, which can apparently give you a deadly brain infection? Cool.

According to Live Science, a 31-year-old British man contracted a dangerous bacterial infection in the lining of his skull — horrifyingly called “necrotizing otitis externa” — after using a cotton swap to clean out his ears. A tiny piece of the cotton got stuck in his ear canal and ended up moving toward the lining of his brain, causing vomit-inducing headaches and memory loss. (Fortunately, he didn’t die.)

The man reportedly started experiencing pain and discharge from his ear; within ten days of those symptoms, he had a seizure that caused him to collapse and was rushed to the hospital. Once he was there, doctors performed a CT scan and found the cotton and performed surgery to remove it. Apparently, the man had been experiencing pain and hearing loss over five years — and after doctors removed the swab, it was reportedly “impacted and surrounded by wax and debris, suggesting that it had been there for some time.” (Lovely.) Following the procedure, he required two months of various antibiotics to treat his infection, and was kept in the hospital for nearly a week.

Now, apparently, he’s fine. Really! He reportedly has no long-term negative effects with his brain or his ears. And, though Live Science doesn’t explicitly say so, I’m sure cases like this are really quite rare.

But … just something to think about the next time you decide to clean out your ears. Sorry!

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