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Excessive buildup of earwax is a relatively common issue that many people struggle with at some point over the course of their life. Doctors refer to this condition as cerumen impaction. Although having impacted earwax is a relatively benign condition, wax removal is a delicate process that is best addressed by a hearing professional.

The hallmark symptoms of an ear blockage are:


If you have ever suffered from wax buildup, you understand how miserable these symptoms can make you feel. No wonder why most people will try any sort of home remedies such as ear candling, ear swabs or over-the-counter ear cleaners to resolve this issue. But how do you clean your ears properly? Can you use a Q-tip to remove the wax? Can ear swabs damage the ear canal? Isn't ear candling dangerous? All great questions. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about ear cleaning.

What is the function of earwax?

Before diving deeper into the topic of safely removing excessive earwax, it is important to understand what earwax is. Earwax, called cerumen, is more useful than you may think. It's natural and completely healthy for your body to produce it so that it can perform various essential functions. This sticky, waxy substance gets little credit for all the good it does.
For instance, it traps tiny particles of dirt, dead skin cells, dust, and filters them out and away from the eardrum and the inner ear. This protective function is called a self-cleaning mechanism. Earwax also lubricates your ear canals, preventing them from becoming dry and itchy.

How to do ear cleaning at home?

It is not uncommon for some people to occasionally experience excess earwax. If your ear canal is completely blocked, you should not attempt to remove the wax on your own. In this situation, your best bet is to consult an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist (ENT). If the blockage is only partial and the ear cavity is only slightly dirty, you can try the following method:

Step 1
Run warm water or saline solution into your ear canal. You can use an ear irrigation kit for that. Do this only if your eardrums are intact and there is no sign of perforation, such as ear pain, pus-filled or bloody drainage. After a few minutes, the lukewarm water will soften the earwax, so that it can drain through the outer ear. One simple way to do this is by letting a little warm water dribble into the ear canal while showering.

Step 2
Dab the ear opening and the liquid very gently with a clean cloth. Be careful when using warm water. The water temperature should never be hot, only lukewarm.

Another tip: You can help old earwax move out of the ear canal by chewing and moving your jaw. Once the earwax makes its way to the ear opening, it can dry up and fall out. You can also wipe it off of the auricle with a cloth or a cotton ball.

If you have very narrow ear canals or excessively large amounts of earwax, visiting an ENT may be your best bet. A specialist can safely remove earwax plugs so your hearing will not be affected. Do not disregard the signs of a blockage and allow the earwax to accumulate in the ear canal. Doing so may lead to hearing loss in the long run.

If possible, always seek out help from a doctor and have a professional perform the earwax removal. Your ear structures are incredibly delicate, and excess wax can damage your eardrums. Even if there is no rupture, we recommend visiting your ENT, as in some instances medical intervention may be necessary. Those who wear hearing aids or swim regularly may also require additional care of their ear canal to prevent infections.

What should I not do when cleaning my ear?

When it comes to ear cleaning, there are quite a few misconceptions that float around. Not all methods are safe or reliable solutions for impacted earwax.

Q-tips

Although many people use Q-tips for ear cleaning, that does not make ear swabs safe. It's never a good idea to stick any objects into your ear canal. Be extra cautious, especially if you have had ear surgery in the past, have a ruptured eardrum, you have ear pain or drainage.

Refrain from using cotton swabs altogether. Imagine a narrow pipe that you want to free from dirt with a long stick. The stick you are using is only marginally narrower but much shorter than the pipe itself. Can you see why this is not an effective strategy? The same way, when you stick a cotton swab into your ear canal, you will end up pushing the plug further down. Not only you may entirely block the exit, but you also risk injury to the eardrum. Another possible complication is when the wax hardens right at the eardrum, which may lead to drastic hearing loss.

Ear candling

Ear candling is another popular method of DIY ear cleaning. While many tout its effectiveness, we do not recommend it. There is a real fad for Hopi ear candling at the moment. Unfortunately, the risk of injury caused by hot wax is very high, which can lead to permanent damage to the ear canal.

Summary

In summary, here are the general guidelines to make ear cleaning as safe and effective as possible:
  1. Whenever possible, ask your doctor to remove the wax for you.
  2. Irrigate your ear canal with warm (not hot) water.
  3. Gently cleanse the outer edges of your ear opening with a damp cloth.
  4. Be sure not to insert any ear swab into the ear canal.

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