Removing Cerumen: Do’s and Don’ts
One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that earwax (also known as cerumen) isn’t actually a bad thing. Its presence is actually an indication that your ear is healthy, and that everything is functioning as it should. Granted, it’s not the most pleasant substance in the world — much like nasal mucous, cerumen is a natural cleaning agent, picking up everything from dead skin, hair and dust, while also possessing known antifungal properties.
What to Avoid When Cleaning Your Ears
Generally, given that your ear canal is self-cleaning, it’s usually better to leave it alone. Overzealous removal of cerumen can not only cause significant itching and irritation but can actually have the opposite of the intended effect. That is to say that if you go over the top removing earwax, it can actually cause a blockage, which in turn can result in pain, infection, or even hearing damage in severe cases.
With that in mind, you should never use a cotton swab or other object to clean your ears. Doing so is likely to push any earwax you’re trying to get rid of even deeper. It can also result in anything from a punctured eardrum to an ear infection.
You also need to stay away from homeopathic solutions like ear candling and essential oils. The former is more likely to cause severe burns than actually removing any earwax, while the use of aggressively scented products may actually trigger your body to produce even more earwax. Realistically, neither of these methods is safe.
How to Safely Remove Earwax From Your Ears
Let’s say you’re suffering from cerumen impaction and looking for a means of relieving the condition at home. The first thing I want to establish is that your best bet is always to visit an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. They have both the expertise and the necessary equipment to remove your earwax safely and effectively.
That said, if you do want to take care of things on your own, the first thing you’ll want to do is purchase the necessary supplies. At minimum, you’ll want an eyedropper, clean cloths, and a softening solution. As far as that softening solution is concerned, you have two main options.
- Water-based. These often contain hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid, or baking soda. They generally work better for some people than oil-based solutions, particularly those prone to oily skin.
- Oil-based. These generally combine heat and lubrication to gently break down excess cerumen. They may be comprised of baby oil, mineral oil, or olive oil.
You may also want to look into an irrigation or bulb syringe to flush out the impaction, though in this case, cleanliness is imperative if you want to avoid infection.
Once you’ve gathered the proper supplies, the process is fairly simple. Use a few droplets of the softening solution each day, wait a few minutes, then gently rinse your ears and pat dry. Repeat for a few weeks.
Again, this is something you should do only at your own risk. And if you’re experiencing any sort of pain or discomfort that may suggest trauma to any part of the ear, don’t try to treat it on your own. Go to the doctor.
They’re trained for this. You aren’t.
About the Author:
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.