That there is a right way to clean your ears suggests that there is a wrong way, and indeed, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is customary, and it breaches the very 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 likely only push the earwax up against the eardrum, potentially causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum injury.
So what should you be doing to clean your ears under usual circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t expecting something more profound). Your ears are made to be self-cleansing, and the normal motions of your jaw push earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.
And earwax is essential, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for most people most of the time, nothing is required other than normal bathing to wash the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are circumstances in which people do produce an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In situations like these, you will need to clean out 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 fragile 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, announcing that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can trigger significant injuries.)
To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following measures:
- Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for preparing the mixture can be found online, 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 let the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
- Empty the solution out of your ear by tilting your head slowly over a container 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 free any loose earwax.
When not to clean your ears at home
Cleaning your ears at home could be hazardous 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 consult with your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may suggest a more serious congestion that requires professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists take advantage of a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful 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 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 keep in mind, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.