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 indeed, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is customary, 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 item that will likely only drive 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 normal conditions? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t anticipating something more profound). Your ears are structured to be self-cleaning, and the normal movements of your jaw force earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.

And earwax is important, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears results in dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people most of the time, nothing is required other than normal bathing to clean 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 your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We’ll say it 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 definitely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA released a warning against using them, stating that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can bring on severe injuries.)

To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following actions:

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Directions for preparing the mixture can be found on the web, and the solution often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
  2. Pour the solution into your ears from the bowl or by using a plastic or bulb syringe. Tilt your head to the side and allow the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Drain the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a container 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 push 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 dangerous 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 check with your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may indicate a more serious congestion that will require professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists make use of a variety of medicines and devices 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 professionals. You’ll get the assurance that you’re not causing harm to 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 want to schedule an appointment, give us a call today! And remember, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a repeated professional checkup every 6 months.

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