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Listen Up: Tips to Clean Your Ears Properly


Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

You may have good intentions when cleaning your ears, but did you know that most people do it completely wrong? Many do-it-yourself cleaning methods do more harm than good. Plus, although ear wax may make you feel dirty or unkempt, it actually has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Ear wax is important to the health of the outer ear canal. It provides protection, lubrication, and antibacterial properties. If we clean our ears too often, the absence of ear wax actually may result in dry and itchy ears. The ways that many of us have been conditioned to keep our ears “clean,” may actually do more harm than good.

Here are a few helpful tips to properly clean your ears without damaging this delicate sense organ.

How to Properly Clean your Ears

Normally, ear canals are self-cleaning and should not need to be cleared with any foreign devices. Trying to clean the ear with cotton swabs or other objects can actually cause problems by pushing the ear wax deeper into the ear canal. However, sometimes wax can accumulate excessively, resulting in a blocked ear canal. In that case, clean your outer ear with a cloth and try one of the following to remove the blockage:

  • Place a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, water, or commercial ear drops into the inner ear to soften the wax, which will allow it to come out more easily.
  • A stream of water or saline (salt water) can be used to rinse the ear. Use a syringe from the drug store to get the solution into the ear canal, but do not insert it too far. These solutions should be warmed to body temperature to prevent dizziness.
  • You don’t have to do it yourself: Doctors specializing in ear, nose, and throat care have special, safe instruments to vacuum ear wax or otherwise remove it.

Also, it is important to remember that not only is the ear self-cleaning, but it also clears itself due to the body’s normal movements. Old ear wax is constantly being transported from the inner ear canal to the ear opening by chewing, talking, or simply moving the jaw.

How Not to Clean your Ears

Ear wax is not formed in the deep part of the ear canal. Therefore, when a doctor sees someone with a build-up of wax against the eardrum, it is often because the person used foreign objects to try to clean out the inner ear. This wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. To avoid this problem, refrain from the following:

  • Do not clean your ears with bobby pins, twisted napkin corners, or other long pointed objects.
  • Do not use cotton swabs. They will merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a blockage.
  • Do not use ear candles. The FDA issued a public warning in 2010 that the use of ear candles can lead to serious injuries.

If you are constantly experiencing excessive amounts of ear wax or a stuffy feeling in your ears, please consult your doctor.

Visit the UPMC Ear, Nose and Throat website to learn more or call 412-647-2100 to schedule an appointment.

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Ear Nose and Throat

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