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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 for sure, 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 item that will likely only push 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 expecting something more profound). Your ears are made to be self-cleaning, and the regular motions of your jaw push 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 brings about dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people most of the time, nothing is needed other than normal washing to clean the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are cases in which individuals do produce too much 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 will say it once 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 certainly 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 give rise to major injuries.)

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

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Directions for making 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 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 solution out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a bowl 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 force 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 unsafe 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 check with your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may indicate 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 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 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 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.

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