How Wax Protects Your Ears
Turns out, wax is your ears’ BFF. According to the AAO-HNS, cerumen is composed of natural ear canal secretions mixed with hair and dead skin.
“It starts out as an oily, amber-yellow liquid,” says neurotologist Elina Kari, MD, assistant professor of surgery at UC San Diego Health. “As it accumulates and ages inside the ear canal, it can turn brown or black.”
It might look nasty, but this sticky substance plays an important role in maintaining aural wellbeing.
“Cerumen is relatively acidic in order to maintain your ear’s microbiome, an ecosystem of healthy bacteria,” Dr. Kari says. “It ensures a proper balance of microorganisms and prevents overgrowth of bacteria or fungus, which can lead to painful ear canal infections that require medical attention.”
In fact, an August 2019 study in the âAnnals of Indian Academy of Otorhinolaryngology Head and Neck Surgeryâ found that human earwax has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
It’s also an essential emollient. “Cerumen keeps the ear canal moist,” Dr. Kari says. “If you remove the wax from your ears, they can become dry and itchy.”
All together now: Three cheers for earwax!
So How Should I Clean My Ears
The only part of the ear that really should be cleaned is the part that can be seen when looking in a mirror, commonly known as the outer ear. This can be done with a little soap, water, and a handy washcloth. In most individuals, the ear canal does not need to be cleaned.
In fact, during most showers, enough water enters the ear canal to dislodge the accumulated wax so there is no extra work on your part. In addition, the skin in our ears grows outward in a spiral pattern and it will eventually get to a point where the ear wax just falls off while you sleep.
Ears Usually Clean Themselves
Your ears usually do a good job cleaning themselves and dont need any extra care.
The ear actually has its own self-cleaning system. We have this misunderstanding that wax is a hygiene problem, but earwax is magical, Dr. Johnson says. Earwax is secreted from glands in the skin, lubricates the ear, and like a conveyor belt, the wax captures dirt and bacteria from the entrance of your ear canal and slides out on its own.
Earwax, technically called cerumen, is only a problem if it affects your hearing or water gets trapped behind the wax, Dr. Johnson says. For most of the population, Id rather you just leave your ears alone to clean themselves.
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How To Clean Your Ears Without Cotton Buds
To ensure normal daily cleaning of your ear, washing the outside with soap and water is sufficient, which adds to the natural cleansing action that the organ is able to guarantee in total autonomy. For cleaning the ear canal, there are specific seawater-based sprays sold in pharmacies. Safe, they can clean our ears to prevent possible earwax plugs, while preserving the eardrum. In the event of hearing discomfort, do not hesitate to book a free and personalized hearing assessment at an Amplifon center. Our hearing care professionals will be able to establish a precise diagnosis of your situation.
Ear hair and many other factors can make your hearing less effective. If you have recently started noticing some difficulty hearing well, try our free online hearing test now.
Put That Cotton Bud Down Other Ways To Clear Your Ears
The contentious cotton bud has been a household staple since 1923, but it was never invented with the intention of cleaning ears. Although manufacturers explicitly warn against using them to clean your ears this has become their most common use.
A recent story has gone viral about a woman, named Jasmine, who nearly died because she used cotton buds to clean her ears every night. It was eventually discovered that Jasmine had developed moderate hearing loss over a period of five years from a severe bacterial infection, resulting in the need for surgery to treat the infection.
The infection was caused by fibres from the cotton buds becoming lodged in Jessicas ear due to her pressing down too far and too regularly. Thankfully Jessica has recovered although she does continue to suffer from an ongoing hearing loss.
Cotton swabs were invented by a Polish-American man named Leo Gerstenzang, after watching his wife attach pieces of cotton to toothpicks to clean their babys outer ears and nose. Inspired by the need Leo invented the cotton bud. But somewhere along the way misinformation spread and parents began to use the cotton bud the wrong way, pushing it deep inside the ear, with the misconception this would extract the wax, when in fact it usually just pushes it further in.
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How To Protect Your Ears
Beyond keeping your ears clean, follow these tips to protect them and ensure good hearing for years to come:
- Dont insert small objects into your ears. You shouldnt put anything smaller than your elbow inside of your ear canal because it can cause injury to your eardrum or wax impaction.
- Limit your exposure to loud noises. Wear protective headgear or earplugs when the noise gets too loud.
- Take periodic breaks from using your headphones, and keep the volume low enough that no one else can hear your music. Dont raise the volume in your cars sound system up too high either.
- Dry out your ears after swimming to prevent swimmers ear. Use a cloth to wipe the outside of the ear, and tilt your head to help remove any additional water.
- Pay attention to any hearing changes that occur with the use of certain medications. If you notice changes, balance issues, or ringing in your ears, contact your doctor.
- See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice sudden pain, a loss of hearing, or if you have an ear injury.
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
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Why You Should Stop Cleaning Your Ears With Cotton Swabs
Weve all done it. Youve probably even done it a few times this week after you shower. Were talking about cleaning your ears with a cotton swab, of course. You open up that medicine cabinet, take a fresh cotton swab and jam it in your ear to clean out the wax and gunk that has taken refuge in your ear canal over the past few days. But the truth is, there are many negative consequences associated with this style of at-home ear cleaning. From super-impacted wax to punctured eardrums, there are quite a few reasons why you should stop cleaning your ears with cotton swabs.
At our practice weve seen all sorts of injuries from things being jammed into the ears: toys, paper clips, tweezers, and believe it or not plenty of cotton swab injuries. Generally, you shouldnt stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear. Sure, were all taught that every few days our ears need to be cleaned or wax will build up and make it harder to hear or cause pain. While this is true, and excess wax can be a bad thing, we still must recommend that nothing should be placed inside the ear to remove dirt and debris.
Why You Shouldnt Use Cotton Swabs To Clean Your Ears
Have you ever been tempted to clean out your ears with cotton swabs? Experts have one word of advice: dont!
Earwax is supposed to be in your ears. It has a mission: to keep your ears healthy by trapping dust and dirt so that they dont travel deeper into your ear. Having a waxy coating on your delicate ear canal skin also helps to protect it. The inside of your ear doesnt need to be cleaned because earwax is the cleaner.
Your body already has a way to deal with earwax it no longer needs. Chewing, other jaw movements, and skin growing inside your ear will push old earwax out naturally. Using cotton swabs, however, can push the wax deeper into your ear canal. You might also seriously damage sensitive ear canal skin or your eardrum.
Earwax buildup is not very common. According to the American Academy of OtolaryngologyHead and Neck Surgery, just 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults have this problem. Some people may be more susceptible to earwax build up. About 3 in 10 elderly adults and developmentally disabled adults might have more of a problem with earwax.
Signs of too much earwax or earwax that is stuck and blocking the ear canal include:
- Pain or itching
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How To Spot An Infection
Look out for these symptoms of swimmerâs ear — just in case the drying tips didnât work:
- Itching in your ear canal
- Redness inside your ear
- Discomfort or pain that gets worse when you pull on your outer ear or push on the little bump in front of your ear
- Clear, odorless fluid that drains from your ear canal
The Best Way To Clean Your Ears At Home
Even though scrubbing the insides of your ears clean isn’t necessary, having a hunk of brownish-yellow goo sitting right there âisâ pretty gross.
“To get rid of it safely, wrap a towel around your finger and wipe off your ear opening,” Dr. Kari says. It might help to tilt your head to one side during your shower and let the warm water run over your ears to soften up the wax before wiping.
She concedes that you âcanâ use a cotton swab â just make sure the applicator never, ever enters the ear canal itself.
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How To Clean Your Ears Without Using A Cotton Swab
It may feel good, but health experts say you need to stop the habit now.
Youve been told for years that youre not supposed to clean your ear canal with a cotton swab. Its dangerous and not very effective. but it feels so good! So you do it anyway, day after day.
The truth is, earwax serves a purpose. Its lubricating and antibacterial, and without it, your ears would feel dry. And even though you think youre doing your body a favor by cleaning out your ears with a cotton swab, health experts say the opposite is actually true.
Why You Need To Back Away From The Swabs
Sujana Chandrasekhar, MD, an otologist/neurotologist at the New York Head and Neck Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital, sees patients all the time who attempt to clean wax out of their ears with swabs because it feels nice. Eventually, the practice turns into a habit. Once you start, you dont feel complete if you dont do it, she tells Yahoo Health.
People will stick all sorts of things in their ears to get wax out, Chandrasekhar says, including bobby pins, pens, the earpiece of glasses, even keys. At least with a cotton swab, you think youre using something soft, but in reality youre actually scratching with the stick. Doing this can tear the skin of the ear canal and set the stage for infection.
What To Do If Youre Not Supposed To Use A Swab
Whats The Worst That Could Happen
To be blunt, you could rupture your eardrum and cause permanent hearing loss. Scary stuff, right? Because the eardrum is easily reached with a swab, it can be easily ruptured even if youre using gentle pressure to clean away debris. When this occurs, youll know it from intense pain and because the eardrum may also leak a clear fluid.
The eardrum will eventually heal, but it may lead to something known in the otology field as conductive hearing loss. Basically this means that you wont be able to hear as well because sound conduction in the outer/ and or middle ear is disrupted.
Swabs also are notorious for merely pushing around earwax in the canal where it may cause pain, pressure or temporarily poor hearing on a more short-term basis.
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Reasons You Should Stop Using Cotton Swabs In Your Ears
Cotton swabs are commonly used as a household remedy to clean out earwax from inner ears. Many parents use them regularly on their children. However, using cotton swabs to clear earwax can make matters worse, causing damage that leads to serious hearing and balance issues.
Need help clearing impacted earwax? Call us at 912-351-3030.
Heres why you should stop using cotton swabs for ear cleaning:
Practice Caution With Cotton Swabs
Cotton swabs are used for a variety of cleaning and cosmetic purposes. While safe for cleaning around the ear, using cotton swabs inside the ear poses the following risks:
- Foreign objects inside the ear. Pieces of cotton left behind in the ear canal may cause long-term pain or hearing loss.
- Impacted earwax. Cotton swabs push earwax further into your ear canal rather than remove it. This impacted build-up causes even more discomfort and makes it harder to shed earwax naturally.
- A cotton swab inserted too far into the ear can rupture your ear drum.
- Cotton swabs push earwax and bacteria deeper into the ear, which may cause ear infections.
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What To Do Instead
There are a variety of commercial solutions you can use to flush out your ears, which is far less dangerous than inserting foreign objects into the ear canal. However, if youre having problems with surplus earwax or youre having difficulties hearing, its usually best to talk to a hearing professional.
Hearing professionals are thoroughly trained in the anatomy and physiology of the ear, and can diagnose any problems you may have with earwax buildup or hearing loss. Its always a wise decision to rule out more serious problems, and if cleaning is all thats required, youll get the assurance of knowing that its being done the right way.
Q: So What’s The Best Way To Remove Earwax
Dr. Wong: Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance that your body makes and has many beneficial propertiesit is slightly acidic, which helps fight bacteria and fungus in the ear, and it’s slightly oily, which provides a waterproof barrier for the ear canal skin.
You usually don’t need to ever clean wax out of your ears because there’s a natural cleaning system in the ear canal that sweeps earwax out like a conveyor belt. Even if there is a lot of wax, you can have up to 90% of your ear canal blocked and still be able to hear clearly, since you only need a small pinhole for sound to travel through.
In some situations, the ear does make an excessive amount of wax or earwax buildup occurs for some other reason. In those cases, primary care physicians often use an ear lavage, where warm water is flushed into the ear canal to gently wash away the wax. This works well for many patients, but physicians take particular caution if the patient has a hole in the ear drum or an active infection, as excess water can cause pain and drainage.
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Reasons To Stop Using Cotton Swabs To Clean Your Ears
Youve most likely never noticed, but on the back of any package of cotton swabs theres a warning that is some variation of this:
Caution: Do not enter the ear canal. Penetrating the ear canal could lead to injury.
If you have a package of cotton swabs nearby, go take a look for yourself.
The truth is, its not just doctors, audiologists, and hearing specialists who advise against the use of cotton swabs to clean the earseven the makers of cotton swabs feel its a bad idea!
So why, if the use of cotton swabs is such a prevalent technique of ear cleaning, should it be refrained from? Why are the manufacturers so insistent that you dont use their product in this manner?
Were glad you asked: here are four reasons to never use cotton swabs to clean your ears again.