Pediatric Cotton-Tip Applicator-Related Ear Injury Treated in United States Emergency Departments, 1990-2010

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To evaluate the characteristics of children with cotton-tip applicator (CTA)-related ear injuries.

Study design

Data on CTA-related ear injuries among children presenting to US emergency departments (EDs) from 1990 through 2010 were obtained from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.


Between 1990 and 2010, an estimated 263 338 children aged <18 years were treated for CTA-related ear injuries in US hospital EDs. There was a nonsignificant increase in the annual number of injuries from 1990 through 2001 (78.2%) and a significant decrease from 2001 through 2010 (26.0%). Younger children sustained the highest rate of injury (32.2 per 100 000 for age 0-3 years). Ear cleaning was the most frequently documented circumstance at the time of injury (73.2%), and patients themselves were most commonly handling the CTA (76.9%). Foreign body sensation (39.2%) and bleeding (34.8%) were commonly documented reasons for visiting the ED. The presence of a foreign body (29.7%) and tympanic membrane perforation (25.3%) were common diagnoses.


Most CTA-related injuries occurred with children themselves handling CTAs while cleaning their ears. Foreign body and tympanic membrane perforation were the most common associated diagnoses. Despite warnings against the use of CTAs in the ear canal and use of CTAs by children, these injuries continued to occur. Additional injury prevention strategies through further parent/caregiver and child education are warranted.

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