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 widespread, 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 likely only drive 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 normal circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are made to be self-cleaning, and the normal movements of your jaw force earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you attempt to remove it, your ear just generates more wax.
And earwax is important, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. 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 required other than normal showering to clean the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are times in which people do generate an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In scenarios 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 definitely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA distributed a warning against using them, reporting that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can trigger major injuries.)
To properly clean your ears at home, take the following measures:
- Buy 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to free any loose earwax.
When not to clean your ears at home
Cleaning your ears at home could be harmful 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 seek the advice of 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 make use 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 varieties, 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 hurting 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 repeated professional checkup every 6 months.