How To Clean Your Ears
While your ears are self-cleaning, there are a few things you can do to keep them clean and free of excess debris:
- Wash your ears using a warm, soapy wash cloth. Letting warm water from your daily shower run into your ears every so often is probably enough to soften and loosen excess earwax.
- If your ears are healthy and you dont have any tubes or eardrum perforations, you can try to clear excess earwax yourself using an over-the-counter ear cleaning kit. Ask your local pharmacist for a recommendation.
- If you wear hearing aids, make sure you clean them properly.
- If you’re older than 60, have your hearing evaluated periodically by a hearing healthcare professional. Ask your family physician for a referral, or search our online directory to find hearing clinics near you. Besides advising you on your hearing health, they will be able to detect excess cerumen and may safely remove it.
- See a doctor immediately if your home treatments don’t help or if you experience sudden hearing loss, pain or bleeding.
Should I Buy An Earwax Removal Kit
You can find a variety of earwax-removal products at your local pharmacy, which include drops made from carbamide peroxide, peanut oil and olive oil, and special tools to remove the wax. But Frederick Kozak, a paediatric ear and throat specialist in Vancouver, says to pass on these products. Using mineral oil or olive oil works just as well, and its cheaper, he says. Only do this if youve been instructed by your doctor.
Did you know?The type of earwax you have is based on genetics: People of East Asian and Native American descent generally have dry earwax, while most others have wet earwax.
How To Know If You Have Too Much Earwax
Once it builds up, earwax usually makes its way out of the ear on its own, Dr. Ren says. Unlike your nails or hair, which continue to grow, you don’t need to pay attention to this task. Even small everyday movements, like chewing and talking, can help usher earwax out from your ear canal, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
But sometimes people experience earwax buildup. That can be a result of using a Q-tip or because you happen to be an unusually heavy wax producer, or your body makes sticky or harder wax that doesn’t dislodge on its own.
With too much wax, it can get occluded in the canal, Dr. Mehdizadeh says. In that situation, “people tend to notice fullness, discomfort, hearing loss, or clogging of the ear.”
But there’s no real danger in this situation. It’s pretty rare for earwax to block you from hearing, Dr. Ren says. “Most of the time, even if patients have a lot of earwax, as long as there’s still a little passageway for the sound to get through, their hearing wouldn’t be affected.”
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Getting A Medical Evaluation And Treatment
What Causes Ear Wax
Ear wax is a harmless substance made by tiny glands in the ear canal. Its job is to clean and protect the ears by trapping dirt and germs so they dont get deeper inside the ear, where they could cause an ear infection. Ear wax is also known as cerumen.
Usually, ear wax naturally moves out of the ear and takes the dirt and dead skin cells with it. Everyday movements of the jaw, like chewing and talking, help with this. You dont usually notice the wax come out, and it normally washes off when you shower or have a bath.
The colour of ear wax ranges from light yellow to dark brown.
Some people produce more ear wax than others, but it’s not a sign of bad hygiene.
You might be more likely to have a build-up of ear wax if you:
- have narrow or very hairy ear canals
- work in dirty or dusty places
- clean your ears yourself, which can push wax further into the ear
- wear headphones or a hearing aid regularly
- are older, since wax gets harder with age and won’t fall out as easily
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Why Your Ears Make Wax
The reason we feel tempted to clean our ears is because of that substance called cerumen, commonly called earwax. Itâs normal for your body to produce it, and it actually helps protect and lubricate your ears. If you didnât have earwax, your ears would probably be itchy and dry.
It even has antibacterial properties, which means your ears are self-cleaning. Earwax is like a filter for your ears, keeping out harmful things like dirt and dust, and trapping them so they donât go deep inside.
When you chew and move your jaw, you help move old earwax out of the ear canal to the ear opening. Thatâs where it usually dries up and falls out. But earwax isnât formed in the deep part of your ear canal itâs made in the outer section.
So, the only reason youâd have an earwax blockage up against your eardrum, is because you tried to clean your ears with a cotton swab — or something like it — and pushed the wax in deeper.
Swabbing or sticking pointy objects inside your ear can cause other serious problems:
- Significant hearing loss
What Causes Wax In The Ears To Build Up
You can have excessive earwax build up and harden by:
- Narrowing of the canal resulting from infections or diseases of the skin, bones, or connective tissue
- Production of a less fluid form of cerumen .
- Overproduction of cerumen in response to trauma or blockage within the canal.
- Things that you put in your ears to clean them like swabs, Q-tips, hair pins or keys.
- Hearing aids
Many people will respond to treatment with natural and home remedies, for example:
If the ear still feels blocked after using these drops, call a doctor for an exam. If you try OTC earwax softeners, it is imperative to know that you dont have a punctured eardrum prior to using the product. If you have a punctured eardrum and put softeners in the ear it may cause a middle ear infection . Similarly, simply washing the ear with a punctured eardrum may start an infection. If you are uncertain whether or not you have a hole in your eardrum, consult a health-care professional.
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Other Ways To Remove Earwax
If eardrops arent doing the trick, you may consider using an ear syringe to irrigate your ear. You can find these at your local drugstore or online. Make sure you follow all instructions clearly. If you arent sure how to use the ear syringe, consult your doctor.
Its commonly thought that cotton swabs, or even hairpins or paperclips, can clean the ear. This isnt accurate. Sticking a foreign object in your ear can actually push the earwax further in the ear or damage the ear canal and eardrum. These outcomes may result in serious complications. If you suspect any of these things has happened to you, consult your doctor.
Whats The Safest Way To Remove Earwax
While the rule of thumb is not to clear your childs ear of wax, if a doctor says theres too much buildup, youll likely be sent home with instructions on how to remove it with olive or mineral oil. A doctor can effectively clear the wax by syringing water into the ear but, for obvious reasons, this method is not popular with kids. If wax is still built up after trying these methods, your doctor can refer you to a specialist, who can remove it using specialized tools under a microscope.
Luckily for Noah, olive oil did the trick. On the third day of using the drops, hard chunks of wax started coming out of his ear, says Henderson, who is happy to report that when Noah watches TV these days, she cant hear every word from the other room.
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Prevention Of Blocked Ear Canals
- Never put cotton swabs into the ear canal.
- Cotton swabs just push the earwax deeper into the ear canal. Reason: Cotton swabs are usually wider than a child’s ear canal.
- Earwax doesn’t need any help getting out. You can’t hurry the process.
- Never try to dig out pieces of earwax with toothpicks, match sticks or other devices. Usually, doing this just pushes the wax back in.
- These objects can also scratch the ear canal and cause an infection.
- If all of the ear wax is removed , the ear canals become itchy. They also become more prone to swimmer’s ear. This can occur in teens when cotton swabs are smaller than the ear canal.
- Limit the use of ear plugs.
What Does It Mean When Earwax Becomes Impacted
We say that earwax is impacted when it has built up in the ear canal to such a point that there may be signs that something isnt quite right. Its important to note that most people might never need to clean their ears. Ears are designed to clean themselves. Earwax buildup and blockage often happens when people use items like cotton swabs or bobby pins to try to clean their ears. This only pushes the earwax farther into the ears and can also cause injury to the ear.
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Massage The Outside Of The Ear
This simple method can sometimes be enough to remove an earwax blockage. To do this, just gently massage the outside of the ear using circular movements. That way, the impaction will soften, which can help the earwax drain more easily. Once youve finished making these circular movements, pull your ear slightly backwards, from the lobe to the top of the auricle. This massage will be particularly effective if used in addition to an olive oil treatment.
Diagnosis And Treatment For Ear Wax Blockage
Your doctor can diagnose ear wax blockage by looking into your ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope.Treatment may include:
- drops to soften the ear wax and help it to fall out on its own
- the use of an ear syringe by a doctor to squirt warm water into the ear canal and float out the wax plug
- withdrawal of the wax by a doctor, using a suction device
- removal of the wax by a doctor, using forceps or a special hook
- large quantities of hardened wax may need to be treated by an ear specialist.
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Availability Of Wax Removal Appointments
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a number of face-to-face appointments and services being paused. We know for some of our supporters this includes wax removal.
Were seeking clarity from the Department of Health and Social Care on the availability of ear wax removal. Find out how you can take action if NHS ear wax removal services arent available in your area.
Risk Factors For Ear Wax Blockage
Some people are more prone to ear wax blockage than others. Reasons for this include:
- a tendency to produce a lot of ear wax
- narrow ear canals
- overzealous cleaning with fingertips or cotton buds, which pushes wax further down the canals
- working in dusty or dirty environments
- inflammatory conditions of the skin or scalp.
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How To Use The Earwax Softener With My Improved Method
The instructions say to tilt your head sideways and place 5 to 10 drops of softener into the ear with the dropper. Then after several minutes, flush with warm water using the bulb syringe. Even the Mayo Clinic website says to do it that way.2
I found this didnt work for me, so I made several improvements to this process.
First of all, it takes almost an hour. Yes, I lay in bed with my ear up for well over 45 minutes after putting in ten drops. I found the more, the betteras long as you dont overflow the canal and make a mess.
I could feel it fizzing all that time, so I knew it was still working even after half an hour. That fizzing means that the ingredient is activating and breaking down the wax.
I had a book with me to spend the time reading. Another time I used my iPad, so I could watch a video to pass the time. The important thing is to keep your ear facing up all that time while you feel the fizzing action. Its actually a good feeling, knowing that its working.
Now, this is important: I pulled my earlobe in all directions a few times during the session, as shown below. I could tell that I was helping the softener work its way around and loosen more wax.
Help the softener work its way deeper by pulling on the earlobe.
What Exactly Is Earwax Anyway
Think of earwax as a combination of substances. “Earwax is a collection of oil that’s produced by the skin of the ear canal, and in accumulation with debris and exfoliated skin, turns into wax,”Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Health.
The texture of this mix of skin cells, sweat, and other substances can vary. Some people have dry, flaky earwax, while other people’s bodies produce a more sticky substance, Yin Ren, MD, PhD, an otolaryngologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center tells Health. It’s a natural process for your body to create earwax, and one that occurs in everyone’s ears, Dr. Ren says.
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Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- History of ear drum perforation, tubes or ear surgery. Reason: don’t remove wax at home.
- Complete hearing loss in either ear
- Age less than 6 years with earwax problems
- Earwax problems not better after using Care Advice
- You don’t want to try to remove earwax at home
- You have other questions or concerns
Potentially Dangerous Home Remedies To Avoid
Although earwax removal is often safe to do at home, there are some cases that require the attention of a medical professional. If the above home remedies dont work for you, contact your doctor. Dont use the following to remove earwax:
- Small objects. Avoid using small objects such as pen caps or bobby pins to clean out your ears. Many doctors agree with the old saying, Never put anything in your ear thats smaller than your elbow.
- Cotton swabs. Although they may look safe and perfect for your ears, cotton swabs are too small to be used safely inside the ear and could cause damage.
- Ear candles. Theres been a lot of coverage regarding this technique, but there are concerns that they can cause injuries, such as burns and punctured eardrums.
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How Can I Prevent Earwax Buildup And Blockage
Dont stick anything into your ears to clean them. Use cotton swabs only on the outside of the ear. If you have to have your earwax removed by a healthcare provider more than once a year, you should ask them what they suggest to stop earwax from building up.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Remember, earwax on its own isnt bad. It’s designed to help keep your ears from getting infected. However, if it builds up, it can cause problems by irritating your ears and preventing you from hearing well. Its only safe to clean the outside of the ears and to use drops or water to soften earwax. You should always contact your healthcare provider to remove earwax using an instrument.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/20/2021.
What To Do If You Think Your Ear Is Blocked
Never try to remove a build-up of earwax yourself with your fingers, a cotton bud or any other object. This can damage your ear and push the wax further down.
If the earwax is only causing minor problems, you can try buying some eardrops from a pharmacy. Using drops may make your hearing or symptoms a little worse at first before getting better. These can help soften the earwax so that it falls out naturally.
There are several different types of eardrops you can use, including drops containing sodium bicarbonate, olive oil or almond oil.
However, eardrops aren’t suitable for everyone and some can irritate the skin. For example, eardrops shouldn’t be used if you have a perforated eardrum .
Speak to your pharmacist about the most suitable product for you and make sure you read the leaflet that comes with it.
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Prevention Of Ear Wax Blockage
It is not possible to reduce the amount of ear wax you produce or to widen your ear canals. However, there are ways to reduce the incidence of wax build-up, including:
- Use wax-softening drops or oil twice a week, or according to the manufacturers instructions.
- Avoid cleaning the ear canals with cotton buds or fingertips, as any object poked into the ear can compact the wax.
- Limit ear cleaning to the outer ear only.
- Treat any associated inflammatory skin conditions.