I find it interesting a horse has its eyes on the sides of the head, not on the front like us humans. If a horse wants to “look you in the eye” he or she needs to turn its head ninety degrees one way or the other. On the other hand (or hoof) a horse has a clear advantage here in that it can see in two directions at once. If you think about it (er, “listen about it”) it’s the same setup as human ears.
Last week, my sister-in-law came home from an acupuncture appointment to discover a few needles still stuck in her ear. Can’t blame her for not being aware, since those tiny needles are painless once they’re in. But removing them must’ve been tricky, either by pure feel or with the help of a mirror. You can’t see your ears. It’s kind of like a backscratcher for those places you can’t reach.
So it is with ears. Just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean they don’t need occasional attention. The phrase has been lost on younger generations but parents used to double-check their kids’ hygiene by saying, “Did you wash behind your ears?” I did, and I still do. I also wash in my ears. With cotton swabs.
We’re all built differently, which means some of us need cotton swabs for the ears and others can get by without them. For me, it’s two a day, every day (that’s over 700 a year for you counters). I’m an earwax factory and if I don’t attend to my canals regularly, I’ll be heading to the doctor for a rather awkward “irrigation” treatment. So I swab. Not like a sailor swabs the decks but you know what I mean.
I’m also built to collect water in my ears (the dreaded “swimmer’s ear”). It’s not too bad after a shower but I can count on it after a dip in the pool or the ocean. Sometimes swabs don’t do the trick and I have to resort to alcohol drops to dry things out. It’s messy business, this cleaning of the ears.
Cotton swabs (or “buds” for you Brits) have a succinct history. They were invented a century ago by a man who simply attached cotton to toothpicks as a way to clean his infant’s ears. He gave his product the name “Q-tip” (the “Q” for “quality) and eventually sold the patent to Unilever. About that time a woman came forward to say she invented the very same thing. Unilever settled the claim with her, and a hundred years later they’re selling $200 million in cotton swabs every year. That’s a lot of “cute tips”.
Cleaning ears with Q-tips, by and large, is discouraged by the medical community. Most of what you’ll read suggests you’re putting your hearing at risk by inserting anything into the ear canal. Common sense, yes, but there was a time Q-tips were marketed specifically for this reason. Today the advertising is for anything but, like dabbing makeup or sanitizing computer keyboards. The last thing a company wants is to promote a product that can potentially damage the body. Like the person who forgot they had a Q-tip in their ear and then whacked the side of their head. Ouch. That’s a trip to the ER if I ever heard of one.
Q-tipping also feels good (to which those ER doctors say, “don’t try this at home!”) It’s like a tiny massage inside the ear and it’s addicting. You’re stimulating nerves that are hypersensitive because they don’t get much attention. For some, it generates an itch-scratch cycle that is difficult to stop.
But enough about cotton swabs. Enough about ears. You can re-forget you have a pair on your head. Except if you’re me and they itch a lot. Or you live in the South, where gnats are attracted to them (a serious annoyance). Just remember to wash behind them. Use cotton swabs very carefully. And be thankful you’re not an elephant.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.