That there is a right way to clean your ears implies that there is a wrong way, and for sure, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is widespread, and it breaches 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 press 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 anticipating something more profound). Your ears are built to be self-cleansing, 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 beneficial, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people the majority of of the time, nothing is needed other than normal showering to clean the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are cases in which individuals 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 will 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 positively 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 give rise to major injuries.)
To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:
- Buy earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Directions for making the solution can be found on the web, and the mixture 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 let the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
- Drain the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head slowly 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 hazardous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you encounter any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to speak with your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may indicate a more extreme congestion that requires professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists make use of a variety of medicines and instruments to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful 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 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 repeated professional checkup every 6 months.