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

Until I googled it, I have it in my left ear and I never understood it, until now.. I was reading this and I was like.. Well ain't I lucky, I get a cough ear. :P

Happenz to me too. Very mild cough, when I clean my right ear with a ear bud, I don't mind it.

Had to google this to see if it was a real thing because no one I've told could relate. People who've see me clean out my ears thought that I'm very sick or that I might give them something, so it's nice to have proof that it's how my body works.

I have the same thing in both ears coughing and when I’ve told people about (loads) they look at me if I’m on another planet

This happens to me in both ears when I use ear plugs (to shut out snoring) it's hard to use them nightly knowing it will happen if I'm not careful.

Never had a problem till I had surgery for a bowel problem. I was given a breathing tube and did have complications. My age is 63 and this is all new to me

I often cough when going for ear syringing, but I now get it when I go for Micro suction. The junior doctor said she'd never heard of this before? I didn't think it was so unusual?

Does anyone think it is so surprising and worrying, that a doctor would not have heard of this before?

This is rare, specialist textbook stuff; most doctors are too busy dealing with important things that cost people their lives to obsess too much about minutiae.

i had this in my first year in medical schoo , you can find it in the anatomy atlas of head "promthues" in the german version page 128

Woah

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

wow THANK YOU SO MUCH!! i'm honestly surprised that something so simple worked but i'm so relieved to not have a gagging/coughing fit after cleaning my ear now.

Thank you it worked in my right ear, but not in my left but I am grateful to have it work in at least one ear!

I'm 47 and have been bothered by this all my days, fits of coughing if I go anywhere near my left ear, I nearly threw up with it just now and finally got around to looking it up. I just tried the mouth open AAAAAAAAAGGGHHH thing, it's not perfect, but SIGNIFICANTLY better. The louder and more operatic I went the better it was. I wonder if Pavarotti started this way. THANK YOU

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!!

Hahahaha...I Thought I Was The Only One Who Felt Special About This. Lol

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