As an otologist, someone who specializes in diseases of the ear, I am asked daily what is the proper way to clean your ears. The short answer is in general most people shouldn’t clean their ears. The ear, like the eye, is a self-cleaning and -maintaining organ that does not require routine cleaning.
What is Earwax?
- Cerumen, commonly called ear wax, is a water-soluble mixture of secretions, hair and dead skin.
- It is important to the maintenance and hygiene of the ear canal.
- It functions to lubricate the ear canal to prevent dryness and itching.
- It maintains the pH of the ear canal.
- It is made in the outer third of the ear canal and should not be removed unless it is impacted.
Should Ear Wax be Removed?
Home removal of cerumen is not necessary in most cases and may lead to a cerumen impaction by pushing wax into the deeper portions of the ear canal where it is not supposed to be. If wax is pushed into the deeper portions of the ear canal it will become trapped and cause an impaction. Appropriate options for a cerumen impaction are cerumenolytic (wax-dissolving) agents, which include water, saline or ear syringing or manual removal performed by a physician, usually an ENT.
What “Cleaning Agents” Should I Avoid?
Harmful interventions include cotton-tipped swabs, powered “jet” irrigators or ear candling. Cleaning with cotton swabs or other instruments may lead to outer ear infection, ear itching or trauma (including hearing loss) to the ear canal, ear drum or middle ear.
There are no proven ways to prevent cerumen impaction, but not inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other objects in the ear canal is strongly advised; individuals at high risk (e.g., hearing aid users) should consider seeing a clinician every 6-12 months for routine cleaning.
Just remember, ear wax is a natural product that is healthy and beneficial for our ears. Removal is only required when it is contributing to hearing loss and should be done in a safe manner. To learn more or to find an ENT near you, click here.