Anatomy of the ear staff. “Blausen gallery 2014.”

That there is a right way to clean your ears proposes that there is a wrong way, and indeed, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is prevalent, and it breaks the very first rule of cleaning your ears: don’t insert foreign objects into your ear canal. That includes cotton swabs and any other object that will probably only drive the earwax up against the eardrum, potentially causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum damage.

So what should you be doing to clean your ears under usual circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t anticipating something more profound). Your ears are structured to be self-cleaning, and the regular motions of your jaw move earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.

And earwax is essential, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears will cause dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, for most people most of the time, nothing is needed other than normal washing to clean the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are cases in which individuals do produce too much earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In instances like these, you will need to clean out your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We will say it again: don’t insert any foreign objects into your ear canal. You can irritate the delicate skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and absolutely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA distributed a warning against using them, stating that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can trigger major injuries.)

To properly clean your ears at home, take the following steps:

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the pharmacy or make some at home. Directions for preparing the solution can be found on the web, and the solution often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
  2. Pour the solution into your ears from the bowl or by using a plastic or bulb syringe. Tilt your head to the side and allow the solution to work for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Empty the fluid out of your ear by tilting your head slowly over a bowl or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pressed against the outside of the ear. (I know it’s tempting, but again, don’t push the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to free any loose earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

Cleaning your ears at home could be hazardous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you suffer from any symptoms such as fever, lightheadedness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to talk to your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that are unsuccessful may signify a more severe blockage that requires professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists apply a variety of medicines and devices to quickly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful than the homemade varieties, and tools called curettes can be inserted into the ear to manually remove the wax.

When in doubt, leave it to the professionals. You’ll get the peace of mind that you’re not damaging your ears, and symptoms can subside within minutes of a professional cleaning. In addition, underlying issues or hearing loss can be identified and corrected by a professional.

If you have any further questions or wish to schedule an appointment, give us a call today! And remember, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.