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

That there is a right way to clean your ears suggests that there is a wrong way, and undoubtedly, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is widespread, and it violates the 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 injury.

So what should you be doing to clean your ears under usual circumstances? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are structured to be self-cleaning, and the regular motions of your jaw drive 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 characteristics. In fact, over-cleaning the ears produces dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. Therefore, for most people the majority of of the time, nothing is required other than normal bathing to clean the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are circumstances in which people do generate 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 once again: don’t insert any foreign objects into your ear canal. You can irritate the fragile skin of the canal and can end up perforating your eardrum. This means no cotton swabs and positively no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA distributed a warning against using them, announcing that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can give rise to serious injuries.)

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

  1. Purchase earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Directions for preparing the solution can be found online, and the mixture often includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, and glycerin.
  2. Pour the solution into your ears from the container 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. Drain the solution out of your ear by tilting your head gradually over a bowl or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pushed 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 loosened earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

Cleaning your ears at home could be dangerous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you encounter any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to contact your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may signify a more significant blockage that will require professional cleaning.

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

When in doubt, leave it to the experts. 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 additional questions or want to set up an appointment, give us a call today! And keep in mind, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.