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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 in fact, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is common, and it breaks the 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 probably only shove 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 usual circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t expecting something more profound). Your ears are built to be self-cleansing, and the regular motions of your jaw drive earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.

And earwax is essential, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears produces dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for the majority of people most of the time, nothing is needed other than normal bathing to wash the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are circumstances in which people do generate too much 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 once again: don’t insert any foreign objects into your ear canal. You can irritate the sensitive 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, stating that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can induce significant injuries.)

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

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions 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 allow the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Drain the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head gradually 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 force the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to displace 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 experience any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to contact your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may indicate a more severe blockage that will require professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists take advantage of a variety of medicines and devices to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful than the homemade variants, 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 peace of mind that you’re not injuring 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 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.