Cotton buds - just don't do it.
Since my independent practice was launched last year, I have seen in excess of 600 people for ear wax removal through microsuction, and I would say, that around 50% of those people, admit (shyly), to using cotton buds to "clean their ears".
First off, if I ask you if you have used cotton buds and you say "no" but you have been, I can tell, due to how the wax lies and its placement in the ear canal...I promise I won't tell you off if you tell me you have used cotton buds, so please, just tell me....wax doesn't lie.
Lots of people say to me "I cannot believe the wax that comes out when I use cotton buds" and then I look in their ears, and like a concrete wall, there is loads of hard impacted wax pushed towards the back of the canal. Here's the thing, you're not really "removing wax", you are tickling a bright white piece of cotton wool on gunk in your ear, and so you are simply coating the tip, which gives the illusion (like a magic trick!), that you are removing stuff. You're not...you're simply pushing it further down the ear canal, getting closer and closer to the ear drum.
There are some reasons why we say you shouldn't use cotton buds (and I understand how good they feel to scratch that unobtainable itch!), for example: if you are pushing wax further into the canal, you could, potentially, push wax right on to the drum, putting you at risk of a perforated ear drum... not nice. On that note, I have had a patient come to see me who said they had completely forgotten they have a cotton bud stick in their ear, went to bed, and laid straight onto the cotton bud stick and perforated their ear drum - it sounds crazy I know, but it's true! They just got distracted by something mid scratch.
The ear canal, like the rest of your body, is lined with skin - that skin is very thin indeed. If you are scraping your ear canal to tackle that itch, you can cause yourself some abrasion, opening up the skin with tiny little cuts, which can be a lovely and yummy home for bacteria, so that they multiply and cause you infections. As a side note - it is a myth that ear infections are always painful, they are not, sometimes you can just feel a bit itchy and blocked, and so just because you don't have pain, doesn't mean you don't have an ear infection.
In recent times, I have seen quite a few people, who have had the tip of cotton buds stuck quite far down their ear canal and on asking them if they knew whether they had a bud in their ear they seem shocked and cry "really?! no way!", especially after they have told me at length about how they don't use the things...(it does make me chuckle! seriously, I won't shout at you, just be honest!).
You see, it's really important that we get them out of your ear, because they can be a prime breeding ground for microscopic beasties, and whilst this is very rare, the worst case scenario of super serious infections can happen, which you can read about in this external article: https://www.livescience.com/64958-cotton-swab-ear-infection.html
If you feel you have an itchy ear, and you know you don't have a history of a perorated ear drum, instead of releiving that itch with a bud, use some medical grade olive oil drops to moisturise - it'll be much better for you in the long run.
If you have accidentally had a cotton bud come off in your ear, please book in to see me ASAP, and I will hopefully be able to remove it for you through microsuction and/or using that and fine instruments.