Anatomy of the ear staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”.

That there is a right way to clean your ears implies that there is a wrong way, and in fact, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is prevalent, and it breaks the 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 probably only force 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 normal circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are fashioned to be self-cleaning, and the regular motions of your jaw drive earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just generates more wax.

And earwax is beneficial, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears produces dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for the majority of people the majority of of the time, nothing is needed other than normal washing to wash the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are situations in which individuals do produce an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In scenarios like these, you will need to clean 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 definitely 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 induce significant injuries.)

To correctly clean your ears at home, take the following actions:

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the pharmacy 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.
  2. Pour the solution into your ears from the bowl or by using a plastic or bulb syringe. Tilt your head to the side and let the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Empty the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a bowl 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 force the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. 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 harmful 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 pay a visit to your doctor or hearing specialist. Also, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may signify a more serious congestion that will require professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists use a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be stronger than the homemade versions, and devices called curettes can be inserted into the ear to manually remove the wax.

When in doubt, leave it to the professionals. You’ll get the peace of mind that you’re not hurting 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 remember, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.