That there is a right way to clean your ears proposes that there is a wrong way, and undoubtedly, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is common, and it breaches 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 force the earwax up against the eardrum, potentially causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum damage.
So what should you be doing to clean your ears under ordinary circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are designed to be self-cleaning, and the normal motions of your jaw move earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you attempt to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.
And earwax is beneficial, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for the majority of people most of the time, nothing is required other than normal showering to clean the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are cases in which individuals do generate too much 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 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 definitely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA distributed a warning against using them, announcing that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can induce severe injuries.)
To properly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:
- Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Directions for preparing the solution can be found online, and the mixture often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
- 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.
- 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 pressed against the outside of the ear. (I know it’s tempting, but again, don’t force the cotton ball into your ear.)
- 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 suffer from any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to talk with your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may suggest a more extreme blockage that necessitates professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists draw on a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade versions, and devices 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 schedule 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.