What is earwax – and how can I safely clean it?
First of all, earwax is natural and necessary – our ears evolved that way for a reason. Earwax acts as a natural lubricant that protects the sensitive skin in the ear canal. It also creates a natural barrier that prevents dirt and foreign objects from reaching the eardrum.
What’s more, earwax is a key component of the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism. As skin inside the ear canal grows outwards, it carries earwax with it. During this process earwax captures dirt and dead skin, this all naturally exits the ear together with the wax. If you find it annoying, chewing and yawning also help to move the wax outwards along your ear canal.
Remember—we need earwax as protection for the eardrum. So, you shouldn’t clean it too much. It just isn’t necessary. It is safe to wipe away visible excess earwax using a wet cloth. But do not use swabs to remove wax (or anything else) from your ears.
Do you know the saying, “don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear?” It’s true. You shouldn’t stick anything in your ear canal. While many people may think are safe to clean your ear, Q-tips™ or Cotton Buds™ are definitely a bad idea for wax removal! Why not?
The same way you clean your own ears: minimally and without sticking anything into the ear. Although some companies market cotton swabs for children’s use, or even designed not to go far into the ear canal, these are still abrasive, so we don’t recommend them. Our professionals recommend you use a wet cloth to wipe out earwax only from the outer part of the ear.
Ironically, yes. Often when people try to clean their ears by sticking things in them to clean them, they actually push the wax inwards and create a blockage. Pushing the wax too far in the canal can force it beyond where the skin grows outwards, so it gets stuck. Eventually, this wax can become compacted, leading to hearing loss.
In general, our ears produce the appropriate amount of wax to stay clean. However, some people do experience excessive earwax. Over-cleaning can cause this, as the ear produces more wax that it needs in an effort to re-establish an appropriate amount. Sometimes, however, medical conditions can cause the ear to produce too much wax. If you feel you have too much wax, please come see us and we will assess them and help you clean them.
Sometimes, hearing aids may contribute to the perception that people have too much earwax, as they sit in the ear canal and prevent it coming out naturally. Most hearing aids have wax filters for this purpose which need to be changed regularly.
At Whisper Hearing Center we can teach you safe methods for handling earwax in the ear and on your hearing device. We serve people across the region. To schedule an appointment, call (866) 337-1288.