Maybe you have a build-up of earwax you just NEED to get rid of, or maybe you just want to give the inside of your ear a good scrub down. What do you do? Do you return to your trusty standby – the cotton swab? Here are some better alternatives.
Safe Cleaning Practices
If you believe you really must clean inside your ear, simply use a wet washcloth to swipe away excess dried particles or earwax. Baby oil, glycerin, and certain mineral oils are all effective solutions to loosen hard earwax. Just a drop can soften the wax, helping it to naturally make its way out of the ear. Never use hydrogen peroxide because it can exacerbate any problems within the ear not directly linked to earwax. Additionally, avoid the ear candle craze. The candles are not FDA approved, are not proven helpful in every situation, and can actually cause significant damage. Since the hollow candles are placed inside the ear and lit on fire on one end, some users have been burned and damaged their inner ear.
Trust the Process
Earwax serves the important function of protecting and lubricating your ear, so not only do you avoid itchiness in your ear, but you also avoid some bacteria issues thanks to the wax. Instead of letting dirt and skin cells into the ear canal, earwax traps and forces them out. The wax will eventually dry up as it makes its way out of your ear. Things like talking, chewing, or general jaw movements help the motion along. Trust that your earwax is helping, not hurting you, and allow it to follow its cleaning process.
How Much is Too Much Earwax?
There is such a thing as excess earwax build-up, and this can cause you some issues. Things like ear pain, partial hearing loss, and ringing in the ear (called tinnitus) are signs of earwax build-up. The scientific term for this is “cerumen impaction” and is often caused by dry, thick wax that is blocked in the ear canal. Any doctor can take a look to see if there is impaction within the ear or if there is a more significant issue, such as ear damage or greater hearing loss. If the impaction is serious, surgery is an option your doctor will discuss.
Why Not the Cotton Swab?
Audiologists, ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctors, and even the back of the cotton swab packaging will tell you not to use swabs inside the ear canal. What seems like the best solution for earwax buildup might actually cause more damage than aid. When you insert a swab into your ear and spin it around to get out some gunk, you actually push some of the wax and buildup farther into the ear canal, potentially causing a blockage. You may also push bacteria into your body and disrupt the natural self-cleaning process of your ear. You can even damage your eardrum and cause hearing loss! Next time you reach for the Q-tip, think again.