Earwax is the body’s way of lubricating and protecting the ear. Ears usually don’t need to be cleaned, but sometimes earwax and other debris build-up. Cerumen, or ear wax, passes out of the body slowly. Chewing and jaw movements push earwax out of the canal and into the outer ear. When earwax and the dead skin it accumulates reach the outer ear, it dries up and falls off. Earwax has natural antibacterial properties that can help protect the ear from infection.
Too frequent cleaning of the ear can lead to dry and itchy ears. Using an object, such as a cotton swab, to clean earwax can cause it to re-enter the ear. Cleaning earwax that is not causing symptoms is generally not necessary or recommended. However, sometimes a person may need to clean their ears if the wax or debris has built up to the point of causing symptoms, such as dull hearing. In this article, learn how to clean your ears at home.
How to clean your ears
The safest approach to cleaning your ears is to see a doctor or other healthcare professional, as they can use specialized instruments to safely remove any excess earwax or debris.
These instruments may include
a suction device
a spoon-shaped tool
A doctor can also help determine if other underlying health conditions need attention. If a person still wants to clean their ears at home, they can try one of the following methods:
Using a damp cloth
A person can wet a cloth or paper towel with warm water. After wringing out the excess, you can use the cloth to clean the outer areas of the ear. It is never good to put an object in the ear.
Mineral oil or traditional ear drops
It is possible to buy ear drops to use at home, without a prescription. Several solutions can be used in the form of drops to loosen earwax and make it easier to remove.
These solutions include
A person can purchase an irrigation kit that uses tap water or a combination of water and saline, or they can see a doctor for professional irrigation. It may be helpful to use ear drops before irrigation.
To begin the procedure, the person must warm the water and ear drops to body temperature before applying them to avoid side effects, such as dizziness. However, care must be taken not to overheat the solution, as this could cause a burn. To irrigate the ear, a person uses a syringe and runs water or saline solution into the ear canal. You should let the ear drops applied before irrigation sits in your ear for about 15 to 30 minutes with your head tilted to one side.
Some people should not use irrigation to clean their ears if they have:
holes in your eardrum
eczema or other skin conditions on or near the ear
a weakened immune system
a tube in the eardrum
methods to avoid
One of the most common methods that people use at home to clean their ears is cotton swabs. The risks of using cotton swabs are:
pushing earwax deeper into the ear
slow down the natural process of earwax removal
put the swab in the ear
Ear cleaning with wax candles consists of inserting a conical tissue covered with wax into the ear canal. The individual then lights the exposed end of the cloth to burn. This method can lead to:
a blockage of candle wax in the ear
holes in the membrane between the ear canal and the middle ear
a perforated eardrum
It is never a good idea to insert an object directly into the ear, as this can cause injury and push the earwax further. Cleaning your ears too often can remove earwax that serves to protect your ears from bacteria and other debris.
Symptoms of earwax blockage
When earwax builds up in the ear, a person may experience mild hearing loss and irritation of the ear. A feeling of fullness may also be felt in the ear. In some cases, this can go hand in hand with an earache.
When to see a doctor
A doctor can diagnose ear infections and remove earwax blockages. A person should see their doctor if they have an earwax blockage and are not comfortable using a household cleaning solution.
A person should also see their doctor if they have signs of an ear infection, such as:
pain in or around the ear
loss of fluid from the ear
Apart from acute infections, a person should see their doctor in case of repeated blockages. Your doctor can discuss ways to prevent this from happening. A person can schedule regular cleanings with their doctor to keep their ears clean and free of blockages.
Earwax plays an essential role in keeping your ears free of debris and bacteria. In most cases, earwax passes out of the body naturally without intervention. Having a doctor or other health professional remove excess earwax is the safest and most effective way to remove a blockage. For those interested in home solutions, several safe methods do not involve the risk of inserting objects into the ears.
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