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

That there is a right way to clean your ears proposes that there is a wrong way, and in fact, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is common, and it breaks the 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 probably only push the earwax up against the eardrum, potentially causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum injury.

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

And earwax is necessary, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people most of the time, nothing is required other than normal showering to wash the outer ear.

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

Cleaning your ears at home

We’ll say it once again: don’t insert any foreign objects into your ear canal. You can irritate the sensitive skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and absolutely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA released a warning against using them, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can lead to severe 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. Directions for preparing the solution can be found online, and the solution 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. Drain the solution out of your ear by tilting your head slowly over a bowl or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pressed 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 free any loose earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

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

Medical doctors and hearing specialists use a variety of medicines and instruments to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade variants, and tools 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 hurting your ears, and symptoms can subside within minutes of a professional cleaning. In addition, underlying problems or hearing loss can be identified and corrected by a professional.

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