How to clean your ears
Image: National Institutes of Health
Have you ever paid attention to the fine print on a box of cotton swabs? If so, you may have rolled your eyes at the part that cautions you not to insert cotton swabs into your ear canal.
But according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), you should heed that warning. Here’s what the group of ear, nose, and throat doctors had to say about cleaning your ears:
“Good intentions to keep ears clean may weaken the ability to hear. The ear is a delicate and intricate body part, including the skin of the ear canal and the eardrum. Therefore, special care should be given to this part of the body. Start by discontinuing the habit of inserting cotton-tipped applicators or other objects into the ear canals.”
Having said that, it’s important to note that earwax does serve a vital purpose. It helps keep your ear canals clean and has lubricating and antibacterial properties, according to the AAO. The group said putting cotton swabs into the ear canal could actually harm your ability to hear because it can result in earwax becoming impacted in the ear canal near the eardrum, or it could even result in perforation of the eardrum if you insert the cotton swab too deep into the ear canal.
So how can you keep your ears clean without risking these negative outcomes of using cotton swabs? Here are three easy methods.
- The oil method: This method of cleaning your ears involves putting an almost minuscule amount of baby oil or mineral oil into your ear canal — just a drop or two. The oil will soften any earwax buildup and allow it to more easily exit the ear, making it easy to remove when you bathe or wash your face by using a warm wash rag on the exterior of the ear. Hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, or carbamide peroxide may also prove effective at helping soften earwax.
- The warm-water irrigation method: In this method, you warm some water or saline (salt water) to body temperature — 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or at least pretty close. You then use a syringe to get the warm water into the ear canal, flushing it repeatedly. The reason you should use body-temperature water is to prevent possible dizziness that can result when too-cold water is injected into the ear. Use caution not to place the syringe too deep into the ear canal when irrigating.
- The vacuum method: This method can be performed safely at home using a number of consumer-grade devices such as this one, or you can visit your otologist — fancy-speak for ear doctor — periodically to have your ears checked for any buildup of wax.
A further note about earwax: In most individuals, ear wax will work its way out of the ear canal thanks largely to movement of the jaw. Chewing is particularly effective at causing the ear canals to move, encouraging wax to move out. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this is no different. Some people may have particularly narrow ear canals or other physical characteristics that make it more difficult for earwax to come out naturally. Using the above methods after seeking the advice of your ear doctor can certainly help, however.