What to Do and Don't Do When Cleaning Your Ears

Do your ears feel congested? Excess wax can build up and make hearing difficult at times.

At the same time, you've probably heard that using cotton swabs to remove wax isn't a good idea. Here are some pointers on how to clean your ears safely, what not to do, and when you should see a doctor.

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a self-cleaning agent produced by your body. It gathers dirt, bacteria, and other particles. Usually, wax naturally works its way out of the ears through chewing and other jaw motions.

Many people never clean their ears. However, wax can sometimes accumulate and impair your hearing. When earwax reaches this level, it is referred to as impaction.

If you have impaction, you may experience the following symptoms:

If you wear hearing aids or earplugs, you may be more prone to developing excess wax. Senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities are also more vulnerable. The shape of your ear canal may make natural wax removal difficult.

Visiting a doctor is the safest way to remove wax buildup from your ears. During your appointment, your doctor may use specialized instruments such as a cerumen spoon, forceps, or suction device to clear the obstruction. Many offices also provide professional irrigation services.

If you decide to remove wax at home, the following are the safest methods to use:

Damp cloth

Cotton swabs have the potential to push wax deeper into the ear canal. Only use cotton swabs on the outside of your ear, or try wiping the area with a warm, damp washcloth.

Ear cleaning drops sold over the counter

Many pharmacies sell over-the-counter (OTC) wax softening eardrops. Typically, these drops are a solution. They could include:

  • mineral water
  • baby oil
  • glycerin
  • peroxide
  • peroxide of hydrogen
  • saline

Place the specified number of drops into your ear, wait the specified amount of time, and then drain or rinse your ear. Always follow the package instructions. If your symptoms persist after treatment, consult a doctor.

The bulb syringe

You can also use a syringe to irrigate your ears. During this procedure, you will gently rinse the ear canal with water or a saline solution. This method is frequently more effective if you use a wax softener 15 to 30 minutes before irrigating.

To avoid dizziness, warm the solution to your body temperature.

Some earwax is normal and healthy to have in your ear canals. However, if it accumulates and begins to cause symptoms such as muffled hearing or dizziness, it is critical that it be cleaned out.

When earwax accumulates and becomes impacted, you may develop an ear infection. Furthermore, if you're experiencing impaction symptoms, you want to make sure it's just wax and not something more serious (like fluid or hearing loss).

You don't want to clean your ears all the time. If done incorrectly, this may irritate your ear canal or even cause more impaction.

According to experts, people may not need to clean their ears unless they experience problems such as blockages on a regular basis. Instead, your ears clean themselves naturally.

If you don't want to deal with buildup, just wipe the outside of your ears with a wet washcloth. Washing the outer ear should remove any wax that has naturally moved out of the ear canal.

If you have symptoms of wax buildup, you should consider using an over-the-counter kit to remove wax from your ears. Follow the package directions and consult a doctor if you have any questions.

A doctor can also advise you on whether you should have your ears professionally cleaned or clean them yourself. Some people, such as those who have holes in their eardrums or tubes, should not clean their ears at home with over-the-counter kits or other methods.

Many people do not need to clean their ears on a regular basis. The wax should look after itself. If you use small items such as bobby pins, cotton swabs, or napkin corners, the wax may be pushed deep into the ear canal. When wax accumulates, it can cause problems.

Most doctors will tell you that you should not put anything smaller than your elbow inside your ear. In other words, avoid using sharp objects, cotton swabs, or anything else that could harm your eardrum and permanently impair your hearing.

You should not try to irrigate your ears if you have:

Ear candles are another option to avoid. Long, cone-shaped candles are inserted into the ear canal and then lit on fire to suction wax upward. You may be injured by the fire, or you may accidentally get wax from the candle inside your ear.

If you have a blockage and do not treat it, your symptoms may worsen. You may experience additional ear irritation and even hearing loss. Wax may also build up to the point where it is difficult for your doctor to see inside your ear and diagnose other problems.

Earwax blockage symptoms include:

  • sensations of fullness in the ear
  • hearing loss or muffling
  • an earache

They could also indicate another medical problem, such as an infection. A doctor can examine the inside of your ears to determine whether your symptoms are caused by wax buildup or something else.

Adults with ear infections may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • earache in the middle
  • fluid drainage
  • hearing impairment

Ear infection symptoms usually appear quickly. Don't try to treat ear pain and drainage on your own. Make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis and, if necessary, medication.

Inform your doctor if you have earwax impaction more than once a year or if you have certain risk factors. You should consider scheduling professional cleanings every 6 to 12 months.

Although earwax may appear dirty to you, it is actually a natural cleanser for your ears. Wax usually moves from inside your ear canal to the outside of your ear. It picks up dead skin cells, dirt, and even hair along the way.

According to tests, wax may have antibacterial and antifungal properties that will help even more with this cleanup act.

In addition to keeping your ears clean, use the following tips to protect them and ensure good hearing for years to come:

  • Do not put small objects in your ears. Anything smaller than your elbow should not be placed inside your ear canal because it can cause eardrum injury or wax impaction.
  • Avoid loud noises. When the noise becomes too loud, use protective headgear or earplugs.
  • Take breaks from using your headphones on a regular basis, and keep the volume low enough that no one else can hear your music. Don't turn up the volume on your car's sound system too much.
  • To avoid swimmer's ear, dry your ears after swimming. Wipe the outside of the ear with a cloth and tilt your head to help remove any remaining water.
  • Take note of any hearing changes that occur as a result of the use of certain medications. Contact a doctor if you notice any changes, balance problems, or ringing in your ears.
  • Consult a doctor as soon as possible if you experience sudden pain, loss of hearing, or an ear injury.
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