HOW SHOULD YOU CLEAN YOUR EARS?

February 17, 2019

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Dr. Darcy Benson

Dr. Benson completed her audiology fellowship at the California Ear Institute, Palo Alto, CA, and received her Doctor of Audiology degree at Salus University, Osborne School of Audiology, Elkins Park, PA. Prior to that, she received her Master of Science degree in Communication Disorders from Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.
Dr. Darcy Benson

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You may have heard from your audiologist or another professional that using cotton swabs to clean your ears can damage your ear drum. It’s true: injuries from the use of cotton swabs are common. Some of the problems that can occur include hurting delicate inner ear areas, puncturing the ear drum, and possibly even vertigo or deafness!

If you’re like most people, you may be wondering if cotton swabs are dangerous, what can be used to clean dirt, build-up, or wax from the ears?

Ear wax is normal.

Ear wax is actually a good thing. It’s a sign of healthy ear function. If you think about it, our ears are holes in our head that could potentially expose us to unwanted bacteria or dust. The ears make wax to trap these harmful elements and prevent them from going further into our heads.

Our ears produce ear wax as a defense mechanism, so ear wax is a critical way to keep us healthy and safe. Assuming your ears don’t overproduce wax, you may not need to clean them at all. Talking, chewing and other jaw movement normally helps ear wax to migrate down the ear canal and out of the ears.

Impaction

On rare occasion, someone will have an overproduction of ear wax. In this case, it is possible for the ear wax to accumulate and cause impaction. Impaction is just a buildup that can block one or more functions of the ear, one of which is a problem with hearing.

Impaction may have accompanying symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ear), an earache, dizziness, odor coming from the ear, or a cough.

If you often have something in your ear, such as ear plugs, which may prevent the ear wax from escaping the ear, you may also experience impaction as a result. In other cases, an oddly-shaped ear canal could also have an effect on the migration of ear wax naturally.

What’s the best way to get rid of ear wax?

You can verify whether or not you have ear wax impaction with an examination by your doctor or audiologist. Once the condition of your ears is established, a course of action can be recommended.

Doctors can clean your ears in the office to remove impacted ear wax if necessary and can give you tips for the best ways to remove clean your ears at home.

Other ways to clean your ears that don’t use cotton swabs:

    • A Moist Wash Cloth Wipe ear with a warm washcloth to remove wax in your outer ear. This prevents pushing ear wax deep into the ear, which can happen with a cotton swab.
    • Try an Ear Wax Softener Drug stores often stock over-the-counter wax-softening ear drops. Ingredients in these drops may include peroxide, saline, mineral oil, glycerin, or baby oil.
  • Irrigation A syringe can be used irrigate ears with a saline solution. The syringe rinses the ear canal gently, and is often more effective if an ear wax softener is first used.

Some people still wish to use cotton swabs, so if this is you: use them to clean only the outer part of the ear canal. Avoid deep insertion and always use a gentle, circular motion .

Here at California Hearing Center we are committed to your hearing health. Call us today to set up an appointment for a hearing screening. We can discuss hearing aid options with you and work with you to find one that fits your budget.

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