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 widespread, 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 object that will likely only force the earwax up against the eardrum, possibly 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-cleaning, and the normal movements of your jaw move earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.
And earwax is important, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears can cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for most people the majority of of the time, nothing is needed other than normal bathing to wash the outer ear.
But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are instances 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 delicate skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and absolutely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA issued a warning against using them, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can lead to major injuries.)
To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following actions:
- Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for making the mixture can be found on the internet, and the solution 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 slowly over a bowl 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 loose 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 suffer from any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to consult with your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may signify a more serious congestion that necessitates professional cleaning.
Medical doctors and hearing specialists apply a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful than the homemade versions, and tools 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 damage to your ears, and symptoms can subside within minutes of a professional cleaning. In addition, underlying problems or hearing loss can be identified and corrected by a professional.
If you have any additional questions or want 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 repeated professional checkup every 6 months.