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

That there is a right way to clean your ears suggests that there is a wrong way, and in fact, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is widespread, 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 object that will likely only force 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 ordinary circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are fashioned 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 necessary, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears brings about 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 produce an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In instances 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 delicate 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, reporting that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can lead to major injuries.)

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

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Instructions for preparing the mixture can be found on the web, 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. Drain the solution out of your ear by tilting your head slowly 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 push the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to dislodge 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 suffer from any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to seek the advice of your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may suggest a more severe 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 varieties, 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 assurance that you’re not harming 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 additional questions or want to schedule an appointment, give us a call today! And keep in mind, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a repeated professional checkup every 6 months.

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