That there is a right way to clean your ears implies that there is a wrong way, and without a doubt, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is customary, 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 item that will probably only force 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 ordinary conditions? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t anticipating something more profound). Your ears are intended to be self-cleaning, and the normal movements of your jaw push earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you attempt to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.
And earwax is important, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears leads to dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people most of the time, nothing is required other than normal bathing to clean the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are scenarios in which people do generate too much earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In instances like these, you will need to clean 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 delicate skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and certainly no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA issued a warning against using them, stating that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can lead to major injuries.)
To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:
- Purchase earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Instructions for making the mixture can be found on the internet, and the mixture often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
- Pour the solution into your ears from the bowl 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 slowly over a bowl or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pushed against the outside of the ear. (I know it’s tempting, but again, don’t push the cotton ball into your ear.)
- Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to dislodge any loosened earwax.
When not to clean your ears at home
Cleaning your ears at home could be dangerous 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 confer with your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may signify a more extreme congestion that necessitates professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists take advantage of a variety of medicines and devices to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger 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 experts. You’ll get the assurance that you’re not causing harm to 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 remember, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a routine professional checkup every 6 months.