Most of us grew up believing that using cotton swabs was the best way to clean wax and debris from your ears. Unfortunately misconceptions around this have caused countless ear injuries. Your inner ear is a rather complex and fragile place. To make matters worse, modern medicine has yet to come up with solutions to reverse some of these instances of damage. Still, good hygiene is important. Let’s explore ways to keep your ears clean without causing irreversible harm.
What is earwax, anyway?
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is not wax at all but a sticky substance consisting partially of skin cells in the ear canal. As dead skin falls away to make room for new skin cells they are pulled in to help produce earwax. Earwax also consists of secretions from the ceruminous and the sebaceous glands.
Many people find cerumen gross and dirty but it actually has an important job. Earwax has both lubricating and antibacterial properties, pushing dirt and debris out of the ear. Most earwax moves out of the ear on it’s own when we chew or speak, taking out debris and keeping the fragile components of hearing well lubricated and protected from harmful bacteria. Without earwax our ears would be in a lot of trouble. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
When earwax becomes impacted
Sometimes we can collect too much earwax to the point where it can block the ear canal. This can cause conductive hearing loss, making it hard to hear the world around you. Fortunately, removing the impaction can cure this type of hearing loss. Ironically, one of the most common causes of an impacted eardrum is due to DIY home ear cleanings. When people stick a cotton swab or bobby pin in the eardrum to remove wax, it can push earwax further down the ear canal, causing impaction. Other causes of earwax impaction include recurring ear infections, wearing earplugs or earbuds.
How to clean your ears safely
Cotton swabs are still a useful tool but are only recommended for the outside of your ear. Never stick an object in your ear as it could cause irreversible damage. A wet washcloth after a warm and steamy shower is just as effective. The best method to stop ear wax impactions is actually preventative maintenance.
Over the counter ear drops: Over-the-counter ear cleaners work well for a small amount of earwax build up. Drops containing hydrogen peroxide breakup earwax effectively. To use these, lie on your side and add the drops as directed. Let them sit for about five minutes to let them loosen the earway. When you sit up, the excess earwax should come out on it’s own. Wipe the excess away with a clean tissue.
Mineral or olive oil: Another effective at-home treatment is placing oil drops into the ear. Oils act to soften the earwax so it can come out on it’s own, naturally. Many oils work such as mineral oil, baby oil and even olive oil to soften impacted earwax. Then all you have to do is take a warm shower and remove the excess earwax from around your earlobe, safely.
Cleaning methods to avoid:
Cotton swabs: As stated before, avoid using cotton swabs for any earwax removal in the ear canal. If you look carefully on most cotton swab packages, it will state something to the effect of “Do not insert swab into the ear canal.” Cotton swabs can cause an impaction rather than prevent one. If you push too far, you are in danger of causing a rupture in the eardrum, or causing an infection by scratching inside the sensitive skin of the ear canal.
Earwax removal candles: This holistic remedy claims to create a suction removing earwax. It works by lighting one end on fire and putting the other end in your ear. This method has been disproven over and over again. It does not cause the necessary suction and has burnt countless people in the process.
Know when to contact a doctor
If earwax is causing a serious impaction there are times when removal is best handled by a professional. If left untreated, excessive earwax may cause hearing loss ear irritation and vertigo. If you are ever in question, contact us!