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 customary, and it breaches the 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 probably only press 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 normal circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are built to be self-cleaning, and the regular movements 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 essential, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears leads to dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for the majority of people the majority of 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 times in which people do generate an excessive amount of 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’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, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can trigger major injuries.)

To properly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Directions for making 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. Empty the fluid 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 free any loosened earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

Cleaning your ears at home could be unsafe in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you encounter any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to speak to your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may suggest a more severe congestion that will require professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists apply a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful than the homemade versions, 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 peace of mind that you’re not causing damage 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 further 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 repeated professional checkup every 6 months.

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