Cotton swabs are handy for many situations, but we’ve been told over and over again that they have no place inside our ears.
Ear wax isn’t dirt or residue that needs to be expelled or removed from our bodies. Our ears produce it as a defence mechanism: it lubricates and protects the ear from infections, and it’s supposed to leave the body on its own slowly and naturally.
Everyday movements like chewing and moving the jaw push the ear wax from the canal to the outer ear where it collects, and flakes off. Because of this, you generally won’t notice your ear wax leaving your body.
When to Remove Ear Wax
Ear wax removal only becomes necessary when it builds up along with debris in the ear canal, causing blockages that prevent them from naturally flaking off and often affecting your hearing. Many people who complain about muffled sounds or decreased hearing quality may be dealing with ear wax build-up. When safely removed, patients feel instant relief, and their hearing is quickly restored. However, ear wax removal shouldn’t be attempted lightly, too often, or on your own.
Frequent cleaning of the ears can cause them to become dry and itchy. Worse, using a foreign object — like a cotton swab — won’t remove built-up ear wax. Instead, it just pushes ear wax back inside, causing further build-up, rather than safe removal. Over time, it causes blockages that affect hearing. When this happens, it’s best to book an ear wax removal by a hearing healthcare professional.
How is ear wax removed?
When booking an ear wax removal, you can expect your hearing healthcare provider to use professional cleaning instruments, such as an irrigation kit, to safely remove built-up ear wax and debris. This is the best and safest way to remove ear wax and clear blockages that cause muffled hearing.
Your hearing healthcare provider may use a water and saline solution, a suction device and/or a curet to remove excess ear wax. These instruments allow them to locate ear wax build-up and evacuate it from the ear canal.
To start the procedure, your hearing healthcare provider will warm up the solution to body temperature to avoid common side effects like dizziness, then use a syringe to deliver the solution to the ear canal. They will instruct you to keep your head tilted to one side to ensure that the solution sits in the ear before they begin suctioning.
Exercise Caution During Ear Wax Removal
Keep in mind that your hearing healthcare provider will first need to assess your symptoms and determine whether they can safely irrigate the ear.
A thorough hearing assessment will reveal your complete medical history. If you have been previously diagnosed with holes in your eardrum, diabetes, eczema, and other skin conditions in or close to the ears, a weakened immune system, and having a tube in your eardrum, you may not be a good candidate for irrigation. Your hearing healthcare provider will work with you to determine other methods for safe ear wax removal.
Remember that most people don’t need frequent ear wax removal. It is important to maintain a healthy amount of ear wax for lubrication and antibacterial protection, as well as to avoid dryness and itchiness that comes from frequent cleaning.
This procedure is only recommended sparingly throughout a year, such as when ear wax build-up causes minor hearing loss or irritation. In other cases, ear wax can be removed to evacuate a sensation of fullness in the ear, which can often cause sore ears. Otherwise, it’s best to allow ear wax to flake off naturally.
How to Safely Clean Your Ears at Home
It may not be safe to jam a cotton swab into your ears to remove ear wax, but you can still keep your ears clean without the risk of injury or damage to the small, delicate parts of the ear. You can do this by limiting cleaning to the outer ears where ear wax and debris may collect as they start to flake off.
You can clean the outer ears using a damp cloth. Use a cloth dipped in lukewarm water and wipe down the outer areas of the ear. Doing this removes ear wax and debris in the process of flaking off, allowing them to fall off more easily.
Alternatively, you can also use mineral or baby oil, glycerin, or ear drop solutions to help loosen the build-up once it passes the ear canal and sits on the outer ear. If you haven’t used any of these solutions before or don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, you can’t go wrong with using a damp cloth.
And remember – always seek a professional ear wax removal if you experience symptoms of minor hearing loss related to ear wax build-up. Whatever you do, don’t attempt ear wax removal using foreign objects like cotton swabs, tweezers or bobby pins.
Common Ear Cleaning Mistakes
It may be tempting to clean your ears at home and remove excess ear wax, but doing so could cause damage to your hearing. Aside from cotton swabs, make sure to avoid ear wax candles, or the use of conical wax-coated cloth into the ear canal and lighting the exposed end of the fabric.
Ear wax candles come with a high risk of severe burns — and worse, further blockage of candle wax in the ears, along with bleeding, a punctured eardrum, and holes in the membranes of the ear canal and middle ear. The high risk of injuries and impact on your hearing is definitely not worth it.