Are You Cleaning Your Ears Safely?

From Q-tips to ear candling, people have a lot of different ways to remove pesky earwax from their ears, many of which are not recommended by doctors. Cleaning your ears with the wrong instruments could lead to impaction of earwax, impaired hearing, increased ear infections, and even damage to the eardrum or ear canal. If you need to clean your ears, there are ways to remove the wax without affecting your hearing. Here are some tips for the next time you want to reach for a cotton swab:

1. You may not even need to clean your ears.
Oftentimes, ears clean themselves and don’t require any form of additional cleaning. Some people do have larger amounts of earwax than the average amount and that could require cleaning. Too much earwax can increase pressure in the ears and cause discomfort. In some cases, excessive earwax can lead to impaction which could make it more difficult to hear. An impaction is an excessive buildup of wax that can lead to aching or ringing ears, impaired hearing, dizziness, and cough in some cases. Impactions aren’t typically dangerous; however, they can increase someone’s discomfort and affect hearing.

2. Earwax doesn’t mean your ears are dirty.
Ear wax gets a bad rap as being “dirty.” Earwax, known medically as “cerumen,” is a natural body secretion that helps your ears in a number of ways. Similar to the way saliva helps your mouth stay moist and process foods, earwax acts as a natural moisturizer for your ears. It can also trap debris like dust, dead skin cells, dirt, and other bacteria before it can enter the inner ear. Keeping a small amount of wax in your ears can actually help you.

3. Make sure you use the correct tools.
Many know that using cotton swabs to clean your ears is dangerous, however, is doesn’t stop many Americans from putting these convenient, soft-tipped sticks into our ears. What you may not know is, that not only can it be harmful to your ears to use Q-tips and other products like pen caps or bobby pins in your ears, but it can also push wax further into your ears, leading to an impaction that could affect your hearing. Some people tout the effectiveness of ear candling as an ear cleaning technique; however, candling can be even worse than Q-tips. The hot wax or open flame could burn your ears and the wax could also drip into your ear and cause an even greater impaction.

So what can you do to safely remove earwax? If you have wax build-up that won’t go away on its own, there are steps you can take to remove the earwax.

“Most of the time, we’ll initially recommend something that will soften the wax,” said ENT Physician Assistant, Lauren Stoeckmann of TPMG Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialists in Suffolk and Newport News. Debrox is an over-the-counter medicine that softens and helps remove wax. You can also use a couple of drops of a sweet oil or olive oil every night for a week to soften up the wax. Some use a gentle lavage or room temperature water or a light suction bulb syringe to lightly flush out the area.

Our ears play a large role in our day-to-day function, which is why it’s important that we keep them safe. If you notice any changes to your hearing, it’s best to consult a doctor regarding the state of your ears. Foul-smelling or yellow-green drainage is also an indication that you should consult a professional. While cleaning your ears improperly won’t likely lead to danger or significant injury, it can bring on a considerable measure of discomfort and even pain. If you have questions about the best way you can keep your ears clean and your hearing safe, talk to a TPMG ENT specialist today.

Suffolk Physician Assistant Lauren VanDeVelde, PA-C

About Lauren Stoeckmann, PA-C

Lauren Stoeckmann, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant at TPMG Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialists in Newport News and Suffolk. Prior to joining TPMG, Lauren gained clinical experience as a physician assistant in the field of otolaryngology, which focuses on the treatment of conditions of the ears, nose, and throat. In her role, she assisted in the management of chronic diseases, allergies, sinus conditions, ear infections, flexible nasal endoscopy, vertigo, and cerumen (earwax) removal.

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