Anatomy of the ear
Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”.

That there is a right way to clean your ears implies that there is a wrong way, and in fact, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is widespread, and it breaks the very first rule of cleaning your ears: don’t insert foreign objects into your ear canal. That includes cotton swabs and any other object that will likely only shove the earwax up against the eardrum, possibly causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum damage.

So what should you be doing to clean your ears under normal circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t expecting something more profound). Your ears are designed to be self-cleaning, and the normal movements of your jaw move earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you attempt to remove it, your ear just generates more wax.

And earwax is beneficial, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears produces dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for the majority of people the majority of of the time, nothing is required other than normal washing to wash the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are scenarios in which people do produce an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In situations like these, you will need to clean out your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We will say it once again: don’t insert any foreign objects into your ear canal. You can irritate the fragile skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and positively no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA issued a warning against using them, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can generate major injuries.)

To properly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Instructions for making the mixture can be found on the internet, and the mixture often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
  2. Pour the solution into your ears from the container or by using a plastic or bulb syringe. Tilt your head to the side and let the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Empty the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a container or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pushed against the outside of the ear. (I know it’s tempting, but again, don’t force the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to displace any loosened earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

Cleaning your ears at home could be dangerous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you experience any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to contact your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may suggest a more significant congestion that necessitates professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists utilize a variety of medicines and instruments to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade versions, and instruments called curettes can be inserted into the ear to manually remove the wax.

When in doubt, leave it to the experts. You’ll get the peace of mind that you’re not injuring your ears, and symptoms can subside within minutes of a professional cleaning. In addition, underlying issues or hearing loss can be identified and corrected by a professional.

If you have any further questions or wish to set up an appointment, give us a call today! And keep in mind, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.

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