Personal hygiene is important, not just for your health but as a courtesy for those around us. We all know we should bathe, wear deodorant, and brush our teeth, but one important part of our bodies we often don’t give too much thought to is our ears. Most of the time, if someone thinks they need to clean out their ears, they’ll use cotton swabs. But is this the best and safest way to go about cleaning your ears or should you be doing something else?
When someone is cleaning out their ears, they’re often trying to remove earwax, a waxy oil called cerumen. Cerumen is released from glands inside the ear and serves to protect the ear by trapping dust or other irritants, keeping the canal from becoming dry and itchy, and preventing damage. It’s even antibacterial and can prevent infections from getting into your body. Even with the importance of earwax, there are times when you should be cleaning your ears out, right?
Ideally, no. If everything is working correctly, your body does a good job of removing earwax as needed. Specifically, as you chew, your jaw moves older cerumen toward the outside of your ear canal. There, it dries up and harmlessly falls out of your ear. Most of the time, you won’t even notice your ear self-cleaning.
As the buildup worsens, you may experience hearing loss, irritation, pain, dizziness, and a discharge from the ear.
The key word we had there, though, was ideally. There are times when you may want to clean your ears out. Primarily, these are when you’re experiencing symptoms of cerumen impaction. At this point, your earwax has built up or hardened within the ear to the point that it’s causing a blockage. As the buildup worsens, you may experience hearing loss, irritation, pain, dizziness, and a discharge from the ear. Once you start experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor, because you’re going to need your ears cleaned.
Among the most common ways many of us clean our ears is with cotton swabs. While they may be popular and readily available, it’s not a great idea to use them. They may not always cause issues, but the risks they present aren’t worth taking for something that your ear does on its own. The organs in our ear canal are very sensitive, so poking and prodding in there can easily cause damage. This damage can lead to hearing loss, pain, or even infections. You may even rupture your eardrum.
Yes, you trying to clean your ears can lead to the most common reason your ears need to be medically cleaned.
Even if you aren’t hurting your ear, cotton swabs aren’t great at cleaning out your ear. In fact, while they may absorb and pull some cerumen out of your ear canal, there’s a chance that much of it may get pushed deeper in your ear. As the earwax gets pushed farther into your ear canal, it can become compact and hardened, eventually leading to a cerumen impaction. Yes, you trying to clean your ears can lead to the most common reason your ears need to be medically cleaned.
Another viral earwax removal method is called an earwax candle or ear candling. The claim is that, by using this candle set up (effectively a traditional candle with a plate to cover your face and hold the candle upright), you’ll soften the earwax and create a vacuum that sucks the earwax and other ear gunk out. Believers also state that passages in your head are interconnected, so this method can help clear out bacteria, earwax, and other stuff out of the rest of your head.
Even more than cotton swabs, avoid ear candling.
There is, of course, no scientific truth to any of these claims. The passages in your head aren’t connected. It doesn’t pull earwax and other debris out of your ear. This method can actually leave behind candle wax in your ear, exacerbating the cloggage problem. This is all without mentioning the risk of injuries from holding fire so close to your face or the damage ear candling can cause to your ears. Even more than cotton swabs, avoid ear candling.
So, you think you need to clean your ears. Now what? The best way to get your ears cleaned is to talk to your doctor. They’ll have the tools and expertise to handle it without damaging your ears or send you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor for specialized help.
A moist washcloth can do the trick, especially with a softener like baby oil or mineral oil for especially hardened wax.
If it’s a minor cleaning issue, where a doctor’s help may not be needed, you can try handling it on your own at home. For example, try cleaning the outside of your ear, avoiding the ear canal. A moist washcloth can do the trick, especially with a softener like baby oil or mineral oil for especially hardened wax. If you must clean inside your ear without going to the doctor, you can also use the hydrogen peroxide eardrops. These drops tend to be a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, dripped into your ear as you lay on your side. After five minutes, you wipe the outside of your ear. The drops soften or loosen the wax, making it easier to wipe away. You may also want to try an over-the-counter ear cleaning kit, being careful to follow any directions so you use the tools correctly. Even these can present risks, as one viral TikTok trend taught some unfortunate people.
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The good news is often, you don’t need to clean your ears. The amazing thing about our ears is that they do the cleaning for you. This means that you should be extra careful if you are cleaning them, since it’s often not necessary. Avoid any sharp or pointed objects, like cotton swabs, that may cause more damage or seek out professional help if you really need them cleaned. It’s more important to not hurt your ear canals.