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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 undoubtedly, 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 most likely only shove the earwax up against the eardrum, possibly causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum injury.

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

And earwax is essential, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears produces dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for most people most 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 situations in which individuals do produce too much earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In situations like these, you will need to clean your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We will 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 positively 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 bring about serious injuries.)

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

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for making the solution 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 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 solution out of your ear by tilting your head slowly 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 dislodge 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 see your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may signify a more extreme blockage that requires professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists draw on a variety of medicines and devices to quickly, 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 professionals. You’ll get the assurance that you’re not causing damage to 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 routine professional checkup every 6 months.

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