If you ask the average person about the best way on how to clean your ears, you’re bound to get a variety of responses. Some will claim that cotton swabs are the only option, and others may swear on ear wax. Or maybe a few will even say that only doctors can provide proper ear cleaning and that you should never attempt it on your own.
In a sense, all of these responses have a thread of truth to them. In truth, your ears are self-sustainable and can clean themselves without any additional extra are. And you should only consider a thorough ear clean to remove earwax buildup but from your external ear canals.
This blog will dispel all those ear-cleaning rumors and myths. Read on to learn why your ears accumulate wax, warning signs for when to clean them, and recommended methods that work.
Why The Ears Make Wax
Before we dive into the specifics about cleaning the ears, we must first discuss why the ears create wax in the first place. As mentioned above, the ears clean themselves; they don’t need us to do much of anything. So why do we feel the need to “clean” them? This habit is all rooted in the temptation to clear away cerumen, or earwax.
Earwax is the result of the body’s natural production to protect the ears. It also has some little-known properties, such as:
- Antibacterial agent (which aids in self-cleaning)
- Works as a natural filter against external objects, such as dirt, dust, and debris
- Lubricates the ear to prevent drying
Ear Wax Is Created In The Outer Ear, Not The Inner
Also, contrary to popular belief, earwax is not created inside the inner ear. It forms in the outer ear. The entire ear canal resembles an hourglass, with wax-producing glands located in the skin near the outer portion of the ear, or the hole that connects to the ear canal.
This wax has a particular purpose of trapping dust or foreign bodies in the sticky wax and preventing it from entering the ear.
Old earwax is expelled from the ear when you use your jaw to chew, or migrated out after drying with debris. So when an earwax blockage occurs deep inside of your ear, it’s because you have used a foreign object, for instance, a cotton swab, and pushed the ear wax even deeper.
Here’s A Video On What Is Earwax For?
How to Clean Your Ears: Ear Cleaning Basics and Recommended Methods
There are many methods for how to clean your ears. But even still, the process can be done improperly. Here are the most common ways to self-clean, as well as safety instructions for each.
Clean Cloth Removal
If you do not have any ear problems or conditions, but also feel that your ear is not thoroughly clean, you can lightly wash the outer ear with a washcloth at home.
Medicated Or Oil-Based Drops
Also, if you have a small blockage of wax, then you can also soften it by placing a few drops of specific liquids, such as:
- Mineral or baby oil
- Over-the-counter ear drops
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Carbamide peroxide
Your local pharmacy will have most of these ear cleaning products available for purchase. But also be warned: Hydrogen and carbamide peroxides should only be considered for uncomplicated wax builds. If you have anything more serious, then you can worsen the problem.
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Ear irrigation is also a common practice to clean ears. With an ear syringe or a commercial irrigation pot, you can flow a solution of water and saline inside your inner ear to loosen and remove wax.
The water-saline solution should be lukewarm and works best in conjunction with clean ear droplets (see above) are used on the ear about a half hour before the irrigation treatment occurs.
Ear irrigation is dangerous for those with certain conditions, such as:
- Perforations (holes) in the eardrum
- External tubes in the eardrum to aid hearing
- Weak immune system
If you have any of these conditions, you should consider manual earwax removal by a specialist.
Manual Earwax Removal
Though not particularly advised for large earwax blockages, manual removal of small ear builds can be useful, but only if treated by otolaryngologists. These medical specialists can use small instruments to provide irrigation or suction and clean the ear or analyze it deeply with microscopic lenses.
Cotton Swabs To The Inner Ear Canal
Cotton swabs are a dangerous method for how to clean your ears. Millions use the products and marketed as a staple for any household.
Cotton swabs often cause more harm than good by pushing wax further into the ear canal, which can lead to extensive wax blockages and cerumen impaction. And with wax blockages among the common forms of hearing loss, improper use of this method could lead to serious health issues in your future.
Cotton swabs clean the outer ear. This specific area is the only portion of the ear that lies on the outside of the head. When using a cotton swab, you want to rub the tip of the swab around that outer ear to remove dried wax. You can also clean the opening of the ear canal.
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Ear Candles: Not A Good Option, Avoid
Ear candles are between ten and fifteen inches long and are hollow cones made of cloth. Users of ear candles are directed to place the candle into the ear canal, with the exposed end lit with a lighter, heating the candle wax to flow into the ear itself to remove debris.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ear candles can not only cause severe burns to the ear, but they can also tear or puncture the eardrum which can leave lasting injuries for life.
As a result of the danger behind ear candles, the FDA has scrutinized the use of ear candles, from its manufacturing and marketing to general usage among consumers. Since 1996, the FDA has even stepped up regulatory actions and product injunctions.
When To Consult A Doctor on How to Clean Your Ears
The home treatments are simple measures that can be taken to clean the ears. They should not be considered the only method for dangerous ear developments. If you still do not have relief from ear blockages after trying some of the above methods, that means that your ear wax has accumulated significantly.
This blockage diminishes the effectiveness of any home remedy. And you should pay a visit to your physician, or an ear, nose, and throat specialist (also known as an otolaryngologist).
If you detect a feeling of pain from the inner ear canal, then you may already have a puncture, or perforation, to the inner eardrum. You should avoid any home remedies or self-irrigation at this point, or you risk infection when applying a liquid to the hole.
Learn the Signs Of Cerumen Impaction
Any pointy object that goes inside of your ear has the potential to cause more harm than good and can create severe problems, such as:
- A rupture of the eardrum
- Hearing loss
The most common result to the ear issues mentioned above is cerumen impaction. Cerumen impaction means that earwax has developed beyond its normal level and filled the ear canal. According to WebMD, cerumen impaction can be recognized if you can detect these signs:
- Pain or a dense, full sensation in the ear
- The feeling that your ear is blocked or clogged
- Discharge from the ear canal
- Strange smells from the ear
- Coughing (the ear canal connects to the nasal passage)
You should not ignore the signs of cerumen impaction, nor should you try to fix it on your own. The blockage needs to be assessed by your doctor during a proper ear examination. Your doctor will be able to check your ear canal with unique instruments, and then remove the wax blockage with a small tool, through suction, or even irrigation.
There are also no ways to prevent future impactions from occurring. But avoiding cotton swabs or ear candles should be advised, especially if you have a history of wax build ups or use a hearing aid in the ear canal.
Prepare For Your Specialist Appointment
If you have done all that you can to remove earwax on your own and are still having problems, then it’s time to visit an otolaryngologist or your medical physician. A doctor can educate you on how to clean your ear based on your condition, and also prescribe medicated drops, or remove the wax with specialized instruments.
As your appointment nears, consider how long your situation has transpired. This summary will help you prepare for the doctor’s questions, such as:
- How long have the ear symptoms transpired?
- Have you had any earaches or problems hearing?
- Have you had any ear issues in the past?
- Is there drainage coming from the inner ear?
Plan to visit your specialist or medical doctor twice a year for a routine checkup and even to clean if the symptoms return. In time, your ear conditions will improve or disappear altogether.
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