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

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..

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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