Earwax is the body’s way of lubricating and protecting the ear. It’s usually not necessary to clean your ears, but sometimes earwax and other debris build up. Cerumen, or ear wax, leaves the body slowly. Chewing and jaw movements push earwax out of the canal into the outer ear. When earwax and the dead skin it collects reach the outer ear, it dries up and sloughs off. Earwax has natural antibacterial properties that can help protect the ear from infection.
Too frequent cleaning of the ear can lead to dry and itchy ears. Using an object, such as a cotton swab, to clean earwax can actually push it back into the ear. Cleaning earwax that causes no symptoms is usually not necessary or recommended. However, sometimes a person may need to clean their ears if earwax or debris has accumulated to the point of causing symptoms, such as muffled hearing. In this article, learn how to clean your ears at home.
How to clean your ears
The safest approach to cleaning the ears is to see a doctor or other healthcare professional, as they can use specialized instruments to safely remove any excess earwax or debris.
These instruments may include
a suction device
a spoon-shaped tool
A doctor can also help determine if there are other underlying health conditions that need attention. If a person still wants to clean their ears at home, they can try one of the following methods:
Using a damp cloth
A person can wet a cloth or paper towel with warm water. After wringing out the excess, she can use the cloth to clean the outer areas of the ear. It is never good to insert an object in the ear.
Mineral oil or traditional ear drops
It is possible to buy ear drops to use at home, over the counter. There are also several solutions that one can use in the form of drops to loosen earwax and make it easier to remove.
These solutions include
A person can buy an irrigation kit that uses plain water or a combination of water and saline, or they can see a doctor for professional irrigation. It may help to use ear drops before irrigation.
To begin the procedure, the person should warm the water and ear drops to body temperature before applying them to avoid side effects, such as dizziness. However, care must be taken not to make the solution too hot, as this could lead to a burn. To irrigate the ear, a person uses a syringe and runs water or saline solution into the ear canal. She should let the ear drops applied before the irrigation sit in the ear for about 15 to 30 minutes with her head tilted to the side.
Some people should not use irrigation to clean their ears if they have:
holes in their eardrum
eczema or other skin conditions in or near the ear
a weakened immune system
a tube in the eardrum
Methods to Avoid
One of the most common methods people use at home to clean their ears is cotton swabs. The risks of using cotton swabs are:
pushing earwax deeper into the ear
slow down the natural process of earwax removal
hurt the eardrum
stick the cotton swab in the ear
Ear cleaning with earwax candles involves inserting a wax-coated tapered tissue into the ear canal. The individual then lights the exposed end of the cloth so that it burns. This method can lead to:
a blockage of candle wax in the ear
holes in the membrane between the ear canal and the middle ear
a perforated eardrum
It is never good to insert an object directly into the ear, as this can cause injury and push earwax further. Cleaning your ears too often can remove earwax that serves to protect them from bacteria and other debris.
Symptoms of Earwax Blockage
When earwax builds up in the ear, a person may experience mild hearing loss and ear irritation. One may also feel a feeling of fullness in the ear. In some cases, this can go hand in hand with an earache.
When to consult a doctor
A doctor can diagnose ear infections and remove earwax blockages. A person should see their doctor if they suffer from an earwax blockage and are not comfortable using a home cleaning solution.
A person should also see their doctor if they have signs of an ear infection, such as:
pain in or around the ear
leaking of fluid from the ear
Aside from acute infections, a person should see their doctor for repeated blockages. The doctor can discuss ways to prevent this from happening. A person can schedule regular cleanings with their doctor to keep their ears clean and free of blockages.
Earwax performs an essential function in keeping the ears free of debris and bacteria. In most cases, earwax leaves the body naturally without intervention. Having a doctor or other healthcare professional remove excess earwax is the safest and most effective way to clear a blockage. For those interested in home solutions, there are several safe methods that do not involve the risk of inserting objects into the ears.
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