Ear Cleaning: Best Practices and Why?
By Nadia Mir, M.Sc., Reg. CASLPO
Updated July 18, 2016
One of the most common questions I get asked by my patients is, “how do I remove earwax?” Earwax, also known as cerumen, is produced by glands in the outer one-third of the ear canal. Earwax acts as a protective agent to prevent dust and bacteria from entering the ears. An absence of earwax may even cause dry itchy ear canals. The amount and consistency of wax varies from person to person; some people have wet or oily wax while others have dry flaky wax.
Although the presence of ear wax in itself is normal and healthy, too much earwax can cause complications. A buildup of wax in the ear canal can cause cerumen (earwax) impaction.
Signs and symptoms of earwax blockage include:
- Plugged feeling in the ear
- Sounds in the ears (tinnitus)
- Hearing loss
If you suspect earwax blockage it is best to first see your doctor or hearing care professional before proceeding with any treatment, so that other abnormalities may be ruled out. You should not attempt to treat earwax blockage yourself if you have a perforated eardrum, tubes in your ears, or have an ear infection.
There are a number of home remedies that can be used to get rid of excess earwax. One of the more gentler methods is to simply use oil:
- Tilt your head sideways with the impacted ear towards the sky.
- Put 3-5 drops of mineral oil or baby oil into the affected ear. A dropper may be useful.
- Cover the ear with a cotton ball to prevent leakage.
- Allow the oil to sit in the ears for several hours or even overnight.
- Remove the cotton ball and flush out the ear (in the shower or bath) with warm water. A bulb-type syringe may be used to gently flush the ears as well.
Sometimes it can be tricky to treat cerumen impaction at home. In these cases, your family doctor or hearing care professional may use various methods to remove the earwax.
- Irrigation – water is used to gently flush out the wax
- Manual removal – wax is scooped out using a small spoon-like device called a curette
What to Avoid
- Cotton swabs! These little suckers are often the culprits that cause wax impaction in the first place. As discussed earlier, earwax is produced only in the outer third of the ear canal. How a plug of wax usually ends up deeper in the ear canal is by the frequent use of cotton swabs. Cotton swabs are not recommended for cleaning out earwax.
- Ear Candling is not a safe method and should be avoided as it may result in serious injury. It involves placing a hollow candle over the ear while the exposed end is lit on fire. This may result in burns or injury to the eardrum. Save the candles for the birthday cakes!
- High pressure or suction should be avoided. Our eardrums are fragile membranes that can easily be damaged with any sort of excess force.
As discussed earlier, the production of earwax is a normal process that is a part of our body’s defense system. Too much earwax on the other hand may cause complications. The first step is always to see your family doctor or hearing care professional before proceeding with any sort of treatment.