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 without a doubt, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is customary, and it breaches the first rule of cleaning your ears: don’t insert foreign objects into your ear canal. That includes cotton swabs and any other item that will likely only force the earwax up against the eardrum, possibly causing irritation, temporary hearing loss, or eardrum injury.

So what should you be doing to clean your ears under ordinary conditions? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t anticipating something more profound). Your ears are designed to be self-cleansing, and the normal movements of your jaw force earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you attempt to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.

And earwax is beneficial, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial qualities. In fact, over-cleaning the ears leads to dry, itchy, irritated skin within the ear canal. So, 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 individuals do produce an excessive amount of earwax or excess earwax impacts the eardrum. In scenarios 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 sensitive 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 issued a warning against using them, declaring that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can induce major injuries.)

To properly clean your ears at home, take the following measures:

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for preparing the solution can be found on the internet, and the solution 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 fluid out of your ear by tilting your head slowly over a bowl or the sink, or you can use a cotton ball pressed 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 hazardous in the presence of an ear infection or a perforated eardrum. If you experience any symptoms such as fever, dizziness, ear pain, or ear discharge, it’s best to speak with your doctor or hearing specialist. Additionally, repeated attempts at self cleaning that fail may suggest a more serious congestion that requires professional cleaning.

Medical doctors and hearing specialists draw on a variety of medicines and instruments to rapidly, 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 causing damage to 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 schedule an appointment, give us a call today! And remember, if you’re a hearing aid user, you’ll want to get a regular professional checkup every 6 months.