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 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 most likely only push the earwax up against the eardrum, potentially 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 intended to be self-cleansing, and the normal motions of your jaw drive earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just generates more wax.

And earwax is necessary, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears creates dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for the majority of people the majority of 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 instances in which people do generate 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 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 definitely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA distributed a warning against using them, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can result in major injuries.)

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

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the pharmacy 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. Drain 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 displace any loose 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 experience any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to see your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may signify a more significant blockage that will require professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists utilize a variety of medicines and instruments to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful 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 regular professional checkup every 6 months.

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