Yes Using A Cotton Swab To Clean Your Ears Really Is A Bad Idea
Having a lot of earwax build-up isnt ideal, but trust us: You wouldnt want to get rid of the sticky substance entirely even if you could. Earwax is made by glands in the outer part of the ear canal to help protect your ears from dust, germs, excessive water, and other questionable substances, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. So if you notice a little gunk in there, its understandable to want to clear out the area. Enter the cotton swab.
Its so tempting to dig out that wax yourself, but doctors say doing so is never a good idea. Your ear wont spontaneously combust from using cotton swabs to clean them, but there is a good chance you might injure yourself, Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. The problem is that its really hard to see inside your ear, meaning theres no way of knowing what you might poke with that little stick of cotton. Think of it like this: Using a cotton swab to dig out ear wax is a little bit like driving a car while wearing a blindfold.
We typically see complications like people losing the cotton tip in the ear, traumatizing the ear canal and causing painful infections, or poking through the eardrum with a cotton swab, Dr. Mehdizadeh says. In addition to potentially setting the stage for an infection, puncturing your eardrum can lead to permanent hearing loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.
This Is What Your Doctor Will Do To Clean Your Ears Safely
If you think you have an earwax blockage, Dr. Voigt suggests going to an ear, nose, and throat doctor if you can, although a general practitioner can be a great place to start if youre having trouble finding a specialist.
When you visit your doctor, they will examine your ears by using an otoscope, an instrument that lights and magnifies the inside of your ear, the Mayo Clinic says. If your doctor determines that you do have an earwax blockage, theyll remove the wax with an instrument called a curette, or they might first use an earwax softener followed by gentle suction, the Merck Manual explains. There are often pretty dramatic, immediate results, Dr. Voigt says. You might have immediate relief of the pressure, he explains. can hear incredibly well.
In most cases, the entire procedure can be done in a few minutes. Your ears will be clog-free, but Dr. Voigt says to be careful. Since earwax is your friend, youll need to be cautious now that the vast majority of the wax in your ear is gone. For instance, Dr. Voigt warns against getting water in your ear for a few days while your body builds up new wax. He also recommends turning down the volume on your car stereo, TV, phone speaker, earbuds, and any similar devices. People often turn the volume way up to compensate for their wax-induced diminished hearing, he says. Once your blockage is removed, you can probably tone things down a bit.
Stay On Top Of Your Ear Health
Ear cleaning of the kind described above is usually only required in extreme circumstances and is best carried out by or at least in consultation with a medical professional. There are a number of additional ways that you can care for your ear health and reduce the likelihood of the need for medical attention. If you are a swimmer, keeping your ears dry is a good place to start. This will help prevent bacteria buildup and ear infections. Did you know that regular exercise can also have an impact on your ear health? Effective blood flow is vital for proper ear function and maintenance, making any kind of cardiovascular activity a great boon for the ears! Of course, a regular checkup is also an excellent way to stay on top of your hearing and general ear health.
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Dos And Donts For Ear Irrigation
While most people dont think twice about using cotton swabs to clean their ears, they may actually be causing more harm than good. By pushing small objects such as swabs, bobby pins, keys, or other items into the ear, it has the potential to make any wax present move deeper into the ear canal. This can cause a blockage that could set you up for all types of problems.
From dizziness and coughing to ear pain and reduced hearing, there are multiple symptoms that can signify a blockage of earwax has occurred. Other symptoms include the sensation of fullness or ringing in the ear. Not everyone is prone to waxy buildup, but some people have the tendency to suffer from it more often.
One of the most frequent reasons doctors see patients for their ears, this impacted wax can cause problems for people of any age. Often affecting regular users of earbuds or ear plugs, its actually quite easy to fall victim to this ailment. People who work in loud environments and use the sponge style ear plugs which get inserted into the ear can be affected by waxy buildup as well.
In order to remove this uncomfortable buildup, both over the counter and doctor administered ear irrigation solutions are available, though its not always recommended. Unless excessive ear wax is confirmed as the culprit, its best to see a doctor before attempting ear irrigation on your own.
In order to treat this condition here are some tips:
What Are The Facts
It sounds like a peaceful way to get healthy, but the idea of a maze of connected pathways in your head is a myth. There are solid barriers there, like the eardrum, that stop this from happening.
Other claims donât hold up either. Earwax, especially if itâs hard and firmly pressed together, is sticky. You would need strong suction to pull it out. But one study found there was no suction force whatsoever during a candling procedure. The temperatures produced by the candle were below body temperature, far too low to melt the wax.
The debris inside burned candles is supposed to be the impurities removed from your ear, but it shows up in the candles even if they havenât been near an ear canal. When studied, it was revealed that the contents were a blend of burned candle wax and fabric.
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See A Doctor As Soon As You Notice An Issue
Youre not likely to experience issues with wax buildup, but if you do, be sure to seek professional help. When your ear canal gets blocked, you may feel like you have an earplug in all the time, experience difficulty hearing or feel like your voice is echoing when you talk.
Doctors can help clear out the wax and check for other issues. Lustig noted that what some people suspect to be wax infection can actually be a bigger problem.
Ive had patients come to see me with sudden hearing loss, and when I look in the ear, its clear and theres no problem with the eardrum, he says. It turned out a virus got into the inner ear and caused inner ear damage.
If you ever notice a sudden change in hearing, you should make an appointment with a professional as soon as possible.
There are several things that can arise in the ear with a change in hearing that are worrisome or dangerous, Lustig said. And theres a limited time window to treat it. Some other things that can mimic hearing loss are much more dangerous.
What Is Cerumen Impaction
The earwax is a self-cleaning agent that is produced by the body. It keeps the ear clean by collecting the dirt, bacteria and other debris that enters the ear canal. Moreover, it also helps to lubricate the ears or you might feel itchy and dry.
Usually, while chewing food the old earwax moves out of the ear canal and gets collected in the opening. The earwax dries up here and eventually falls out.
But sometimes excessive secretion of earwax can result in a build-up that can get pushed towards the eardrum while cleaning with a cotton swab. This is known as cerumen impaction.
In such conditions, you experience symptoms such as-
- pain inside the ear
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First Of All You Probably Dont Need To Clean Out Your Ears
Most people do not need to remove their ear wax, says Dr. Erich P. Voigt, an associate professor in Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. It is a protective coating of the ear canal. It is a waterproofing agent and has anti-microbial properties. It helps prevent outer ear infections.
In addition to protecting your ears from water damage and infection, earwax also lubricates the ears, preventing the area from feeling dry and itchy. And like other parts of the body, ears are self-cleaning, so you dont really need to wash the inside area.
Think from an evolutionary standpoint, says Dr. Lawrence R. Lustig, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. If Mother Nature designed an ear that had to be cleaned, that would be a poor design. We didnt have ear cleaners 500,000 years ago.
He described the system as a conveyer belt of skin.
Earwax is a combination of skin and oil, Lustig says. Skin migrates out from the eardrum to the outside of the ear canal, and as those migrating dead skin cells mix with the oil glands of the ear canal on the way out, thats where you get earwax.
Things To Expect During An Ear Cleaning
If this is the first time you are going to an audiologist for an ear cleaning appointment, it is completely normal to be a little nervous. Experts recommend having your ears professionally cleaned if youre experiencing any pain, itching or hearing loss. Ear cleaning, however, is a simple procedure that is pain-free, although may feel uncomfortable at first. Here is a brief overview of what you can expect during your ear cleaning.
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What Even Is Earwax
Earwax, which has the technical name cerumen, is a mixture of secretions, including sebum and oily sweat, along with dead cells and other particles that might have found their way into your ear, such as dust.
And while it can be gratifying to clean that earwax out, it’s actually usually a sign of a healthy ear, according to Sean Flanagan, an ear, nose and throat specialist at St Vincent’s Hospital.
“Earwax is good. It’s got antibacterial properties, it’s antifungal, it’s a protective layer over the ear canal,” Dr Flanagan said.
“So if you’re overcleaning it for the sake of cleaning it, you’re going to run into more problems than less.”
The reason earwax reappears has to do with the way the cells in your ear canal behave: they slowly shuffle from the ear drum out to the external part of the ear, carrying earwax and any other dirt that may have gathered along with it.
Your jaw movement also helps this natural conveyor belt work.
“Physiologically it’s quite amazing that the skin of the ear canal has a self-migratory ability,” Dr Flanagan said.
“If left on its own, it should just migrate slowly out of the ear canal.”
Being overzealous with cotton tips and other cleaning implements that are small enough to stick into your ear can actually cause a blockage, interrupting that natural outward movement within the ear.
Here Are Some Tips To Remember When Cleaning Your Ears
Much like some people sweat more than others, some folks produce more earwax than others, Dr. Voigt says. For some, the wax keeps building on itselfso there are people that will create the equivalent of a Tootsie Roll of wax in their ear canal, Dr. Voigt explains. This isnt a huge deal unless you feel like youre constantly building up so much wax that you wind up with blockages that make it hard to hear.
If youre someone who is perpetually attached to your earbuds, they might help you figure out if its time to get your ears checked. If you notice a ton of wax on your earbuds every time you remove them, that means theres probably a wax buildup inside, Dr. Voigt says. If youre seeing a lot of wax and also feel like you need to use your earbuds at maximum volume, that could also be an indication that you have a blockage and could benefit from chatting with your doctor.
Before you run to the bathroom to clean your ears until they sparkle, keep in mind that a doctor is the best person to remove significant amounts of earwax from your ears. In fact, when you get overzealous about making sure your ears have no visible wax, you increase your chances of earwax blockage, the Mayo Clinic explains.
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Tips On Safe Earwax Removal
Dont use any small objects to clean your ears
As we mentioned earlier, doctors recommend not using anything smaller than your elbow to clean your ears. The reason behind this is that small objects, even semi-soft ones like cotton swabs, can easily puncture your eardrum. Eardrums are easily punctured because there is only a thin layer of skin that protects them.
Have a doctor remove excessive earwax buildup
The safest way to remove earwax is to have a doctor do it. Medical professionals know the safest way to remove any blockages, and they have the correct tools to help them do it. Plus, if you have any questions about future buildups or health concerns about your ears, you can ask them during your appointment.
Use earwax softener
A common way to clean your ears safely involves an earwax softener. You can buy an earwax softener kit at your local pharmacy. The kit usually uses a type of oil or hydrogen peroxide to soften the wax. Follow the instructions on the package to soften and remove earwax. Ask your doctor if you have any questions about which earwax softener you should use.
Avoid ear cleaning devices like candles, picks, or spiral tools
Try an ear irrigation syringe
If you develop an earache, ringing in your ear or hearing issues, you could have earwax buildup in your ear. Schedule a visit with your doctor if you need help cleaning your ears or have any questions about your ear health.
How Not To Clean Your Ears
Cleaning of the ear is a practice that should only be carried out in extreme circumstances with the right tools. The ear has an in-built self-cleaning mechanism, which means you should not have to routinely clean them. This may run counter to a practice that many have been employed throughout their lifetime.
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Guide To Cleaning Your Ears
According to the current thinking from leading medical professionals, there is only one real reason to clean your ears: the excessive buildup of earwax. This is known in medical circles as cerumen impaction. Symptoms include a feeling like your ear is plugged, partial loss of hearing, a pain or feeling of fullness in the ear, tinnitus, or itching and ear drainage. Earwax buildup is a normal and natural process that is necessary for the health and well-being of your ear. It also cleans itself out of your ear under normal circumstances. However, there are certain circumstances where it can build up excessively and cause ear clogging.
Dos For Getting Water Out Of Your Ears
If you have water in your ears, take these steps to get it out safely.
- Dry your outer ear with a soft towel or cloth. Donât stick the cloth into the canal.
- Tip your head to one side to help water drain. Gently pull on your earlobe. This will straighten your ear canal and help the water flow.
- Turn your blow dryer on the lowest setting and blow it toward your ear. Hold it at least a foot away.
- Try over-the-counter drying drops.
- To make drying drops at home, mix 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol. Pour 1 teaspoon of the solution into each ear tilt your head and let it drain out.
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How To Treat Earwax Buildup
Most of the time, ears are self-cleaning. But if you feel like you have excess earwax you can use over-the-counter wax removal kits, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide to soften your earwax. If using these products does not fix the issue then there are a couple of places that you can go. An ENT will remove the wax for you. Sometimes your PCP will flush your ears out. You can also have the wax removed by an audiologist.
Risking A Loss Of Hearing
What may begin as an effort to clean out earwax with something like a Q-tip can actually push the earwax back down the ear to the eardrum, risking a loss of hearing. Utica Park Clinic family medicine physician Dr. Chris Chow says when this happens, it is time to see your health care provider.
If theres discomfort in the ear canal, it is best to see your provider to make sure you dont have an outer ear infection that could be bacterial or fungal, says Dr. Chow. Because of the risk of infection, we dont recommend putting anything in your ear to remove earwax. Even physicians dont remove earwax unless theres an indication like ear pain, hearing loss, itchiness, or ear fullness.
The American Academy of Otolaryntology agrees with Dr. Chow and would like more people to understand the benefit of earwax – a self-cleaning agent with protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. Without earwax altogether, most of us would experience dry, itchy ears. Many people may also not realize that old earwax is continuously working its way out of the eardrum by the natural movement of our jaw and mouth. By chewing, yawning and talking, old earwax moves to the end of the eardrum where it dries, flakes and falls out on its own for the most part unnoticed. Therefore, the only time we would need to intervene and clean our eardrums is when there is a problem with this natural process.