That there is a right way to clean your ears suggests that there is a wrong way, and without a doubt, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is widespread, and it violates 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 normal circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are built to be self-cleansing, and the normal motions of your jaw force earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just generates more wax.
And earwax is necessary, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears will cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for the majority of people the majority of of the time, nothing is required other than normal showering to wash the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are circumstances in which people do generate an excessive amount of 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 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 released a warning against using them, reporting that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can trigger severe injuries.)
To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following methods:
- Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for preparing the mixture 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 allow the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
- Drain the solution 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 displace any loosened earwax.
When not to clean your ears at home
Cleaning your ears at home could be unsafe in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you encounter any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, 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 suggest a more serious blockage that requires professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists utilize a variety of medicines and instruments to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade versions, and devices 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 peace of mind that you’re not causing damage to 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 further questions or wish to set up 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.