HEARING TIPS

Thank Your Lucky Ear Wax! 5 Surprising Reasons to Put Down the Swabs for Good

Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

Do you remember your grandmother telling you never to stick anything smaller than your elbow into your ear (and then you actually tried to do it)? Well, everyone from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), your local hearing care professional and your box of swabs all agree with her. Here are 5 surprising reasons you can cross ear wax removal off of your daily hygiene regimen list:

1. You’ve Got Ear Cleaning Ears Already

Cerumen, the fancy word for ear wax, was literally built by nature to clean your ears all by itself. After all, the Neanderthals didn’t have swabs—and it’s terrible to think what would happen if they stuck arrow tips into their ears. Anyway, cerumen traps dust and debris before it works its way deeper into the ear canal where it might get trapped. The ordinary daily mechanics of just talking, chewing and yawning actually moves ear wax down and out of the ear canal so you don’t have to do anything else, really. Using a swab, fork, key, finger, chopstick, pencil or any other foreign implement for ear wax removal actually reverses your ears’ self-cleaning process, pushing used ear wax deeper into the canal where it can get impacted and lead to injury and hearing loss.

2. Ear Wax: Let it Be

Sure, cerumen looks a bit disgusting, but your ears make it for some very good reasons, even besides the self-cleaning process. Ear wax has several health benefits aside from moving the dirt out of your ears. It protects your ears against fungal infections, viruses, bacteria, and even deters insects! It also lubricates and conditions the skin inside of the ear canal, keeping it healthy and supple.

You have glands inside of your ears programmed for mixing up a special recipe of cholesterol, fatty acids, enzymes, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, and other chemicals—the end result is ear-protecting ear wax. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth. Yay ear wax!

3. Avoid Hearing Loss from Ear Cleaning

If you’re an habitual ear cleaner who has used swabs ever since you can remember, you probably have old ear wax jammed further into your ear canal, which means you might have sustained some hearing loss already. Schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional for a hearing checkup to determine whether or not you have impacted ear wax that might be causing some amount of hearing loss.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Now, if you need to wear hearing aids, you do need to pay attention to ear wax buildup and proper ear cleaning because sometimes that can impact ear wax into the ear canal. But still—no swabs! That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Ear Candling and Other Bad Ideas…

Nearly 12,500 American children sustain ear cleaning injuries each year for which they need a doctor’s visit. Sometimes the well-meaning parents do it under the false impression that ear cleaning is as necessary as teeth brushing. But often the kids do it themselves. The most common of these injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small cuts and lacerations inside the ear canal.

You may be asking, “But what about ear candling?” Well, thousands of people go to the doctor with “ear candling” injuries every year too. Touted as a “natural ear wax removal” technique, ear candling enthusiasts stick a hollow, cone-shaped candle into their ear canals and light it. Just stop. Here’s what you need to know about ear candling:

  • It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.

So no ear candling for you!

5. Still Can’t Stop Your Ear Wax Removal Habit?

All you really need to do is gently dab your ears dry with a towel after your daily shower and hair washing routine. Normally, this is entirely sufficient for healthy ear cleaning. But if you have any concerns about your ear health, excess ear wax, impaction, ear injury or hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional today for appropriate care – and be a little more thankful for that hard-working ear wax!

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