Why do I want to cough when cleaning my ears?

15 July 2007

Question

When I clean the ear wax from my ears using a q-tip, I tend to feel an urge to cough. Is this a common reflex? Am I pressing on a ‘coughing nerve’ with the q-tip?

Answer

There is a cough-ear reflex, but only 2.3% of the population experience it.

There's something called Arnold's nerve, part of the vagus nerve, which supplies the head and neck.

It also supplies the back and lower floor of the external auditory canal, which is the tube towards your inner ear.

If stimulated, this nerve can provoke a coughing reflex.

Although 2.3% of people experience this in one ear, only 0.6% get it in both!

Comments

Out of all the things to be .6% of, my throat and ears burn so bad when I have to clean them I can't stop coughing for 5 to 10 minutes after I clean them.

Same here Unlucky. I have to make sure and shower before i eat anything because cleaning them after makes me choke and gag to the point of tossing anything in my stomach. It is horrible! I do not have a strong gag reflex oddly. I can rough the back of my throat and nothing. Wondering if that is a common link.

im only 13 and i dont wanna die while cleaning my ears

It works. THANKS I hate coughing while cleaning.

I cough when both ears are cleaned and it is like I am going to cough up a lung..it is that bad..

I feel that way too, it hurts so bad I want to cry but I recently discovered a way to keep my ears clean and not feel like I'm going to die. If you have long fingernails or don't mind looking like a cokehead, when your pinky finger gets long enough, cover it with a very thin t-shirt and use that to clean your ear instead. You're also not stripping your ear of the vital wax it uses to protect itself. If you can't grow your fingernails long try to find or make a tool of similar size and strengtg

Ugh, this happens every time in my right and sometimes in my left. Is there any way to calm it down???

I have this happen to me also in my left ear only, and the only workaround I have found, is to open my mouth and say "ahhhhhhh" for the duration of me cleaning that ear. Try it :D

I cannot have either ear cleaned without an intense coughing response. 0.6 of the population you say?
Well, at least i'm special in one small area of life. ;o)

same!!

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