Anatomy of the ear
Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”.

That there is a right way to clean your ears proposes that there is a wrong way, and indeed, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is customary, and it breaks 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 drive 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 usual conditions? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t expecting something more profound). Your ears are designed to be self-cleansing, 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 generates more wax.

And earwax is important, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears brings about 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 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 situations like these, you will need to clean your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We will say it 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 positively 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 generate severe injuries.)

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

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Directions for preparing 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 allow the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Empty the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a bowl 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 push the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to dislodge any loose earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

Cleaning your ears at home could be hazardous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you experience any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to see your doctor or hearing instrument specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may signify a more serious congestion that necessitates professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing instrument specialists apply a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade versions, and instruments 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 assurance that you’re not harming 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 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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