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

That there is a right way to clean your ears proposes that there is a wrong way, and undoubtedly, there is a very wrong way. The wrong way is prevalent, and it violates the very 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 force 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 normal conditions? In a word: nothing (I hope you weren’t looking for something more profound). Your ears are made to be self-cleansing, and the regular movements of your jaw force earwax from the canal to the outer ear. If you try to remove it, your ear just produces more wax.

And earwax is necessary, as it contains protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. In fact, over-cleaning the ears brings about 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 wash the outer ear.

But notice that we said MOST of the time, because there are scenarios 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 your ears. Here’s how:

Cleaning your ears at home

We’ll say it 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 definitely no ear candles. (Speaking of ear candles, in 2010, the FDA released a warning against using them, announcing that no scientific evidence supports their effectiveness and that their use can generate serious injuries.)

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

  1. Buy earwax softening solution at the drugstore or make some at home. Instructions for making 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 bowl 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 slowly 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 force the cotton ball into your ear.)
  4. Flush out your ears with lukewarm water using a bulb syringe to displace any loose earwax.

When not to clean your ears at home

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

Medical doctors and hearing specialists apply a variety of medicines and devices to rapidly, thoroughly, and safely remove excess earwax. The solutions tend to be more powerful than the homemade varieties, and instruments 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 assurance that you’re not damaging your ears, and symptoms can subside within minutes of a professional cleaning. In addition, underlying problems or hearing loss can be identified and corrected by a professional.

If you have any further questions or want to set up 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.