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How to Safely Clean Your Ears

How to Safely Clean Your Ears

You wash your face, brush your teeth and were reminded to wash behind your ears. But when it comes to inside your ears, it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that you should not use cotton swabs. In fact, cotton swabs are not meant to be inserted into the ear canal. Cleaning your ears properly involves allowing a natural process to take place, sometimes with some simple help.

How your ears work

The ear is made up of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The inner ear helps your brain interpret sound while the middle ear turns sound waves into vibrations sent to the inner ear. Keeping your ears clean involves the outer ear, which consists of the auricle (the part you can see) and the ear canal. This is where earwax is made, and earwax is how the ear cleans itself.

No waxy impactions

Earwax (cerumen) is produced in the ear canal. It consists of dead skin cells and helps fight off infections and moisturizes the ear canal. Earwax also works to shield the eardrum from dust, dirt and bacteria. Earwax is produced constantly, but contrary to popular belief, does not build-up in the ear canal. In fact, earwax is manufactured specifically to clean the ear canal. When you move your lower jaw while talking or chewing, or tilt your head, earwax naturally migrates to the outer part of the ear. Using a cotton swab in the ear canal can push earwax back inside and can lead to dry, itchy ears by wiping away moisture.

The safest way to clean your ears

Because your ears clean themselves, it’s fairly simple to assist in the process. Just a wipe of your outer ear with a washcloth after a shower or bath should take care of any excess earwax. If you need to do a bit more, gently allow water to run into your ear canal while bathing and then tilt your head to remove it. This can be done about once a week, if necessary.

When earwax needs to be removed

Some people produce more earwax, which may clog the ear canal. Hearing aid wearers also may see an increase in earwax production. A few drops of mineral oil or baby oil will soften the earwax and allow it to be removed. Commercial eardrops also work, but may irritate your ear, so limit use to just a couple times a month. Irrigation kits are also available, but you should consult your hearing care provider before treating your ears at home.

It’s a misleading belief that earwax must be manually removed. Your ears are designed to take care of themselves and usually don’t need much help. If you experience severe or frequent earwax impactions, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist to have your ears examined.