Your grandma, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), your local hearing care professional and even the box of swabs in your bathroom drawer have something to say to you: stop cleaning your ears with swabs or any pointy object smaller than your elbow. It actually does more harm than good and isn’t necessary anyway. Read on to find out 5 reasons to let your ear wax do its job:
1. Human Ears: A Self-Cleaning Wonder
Ear wax is called cerumen by doctors and scientists lucky enough to study this amazing, but gross-looking substance. It actually snags stray dirt and dust that tries to enter your ear canal before it can get very far and cause problems. As if that wasn’t cool enough, without realizing it, you already help your ears clean themselves by just talking, chewing and yawning all day long. These jaw mechanics move the soiled ear wax out of the ear canal. All you have to do is gently wash that excess away while you’re showering.
And just know this: Using a swab, chopstick, paintbrush, key, fingernail, fork, key or any other small, pointy foreign object for ear wax removal actually frustrates your ears’ self-cleaning process. Digging around in there can actually push old, spent ear wax further into the ear canal where it becomes impacted and can dampen your hearing.
2. Ear Wax: Someone Should Patent It
OK, so ear wax looks sort of icky, but your ceruminous and sebaceous glands have your ears’ best health in mind when they make this special cleaning solution. In addition to effectively removing dust and crud out of your ear canal, ear wax guards your ears against bacteria, fungal infections and viruses. It even keeps bugs out of your ears, which is good because nobody likes bugs in their ears. It also lubricates, protects and keeps the skin of the ear canal healthy and soft.
Your individual ear wax recipe is fascinating too: cholesterol, sebum, long-chain fatty acids, enzymes, alcohols, sloughed off skin cells, and other chemicals that really keep your ears healthy and protected. Healthy cerumen is also just a tad acidic, which is something that also inhibits fungal and bacterial infection. Yes, ear wax really is pretty awesome when you think about it.
3. Aggressive Ear Wax Removal Can Cause Hearing Loss
One thing to keep in mind is that if you’ve been cleaning out your ears with swabs for years, you may, in fact, already have suffered some hearing loss without realizing it. As you shoved those swabs into your ear canal, you probably squished layer upon layer of old, used-up ear wax into your ear canal, which can damage your hearing.
If this sounds like you, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional for a hearing checkup to determine whether or not you have impacted ear wax that might be causing some amount of hearing loss. Impacted ear wax removal should only be done in the office and without any pointy objects like swabs.
To be fair, some people have less-than optimal ear wax production issues that need to be addressed with ear wax removal. Some people’s ears make cerumen that’s either too dry or too wet, so it doesn’t properly do its job. Sometimes the chemical composition is off and doesn’t fully protect against infections. Even in these cases, however, you should still shun sticking swabs into your ears ear wax removal or evaluation. Call your hearing care professional if you’re worried about your ear wax.
Note about hearing aids: ear wax buildup can lessen the effectiveness of your hearing aids, if you wear them. Improper hearing aid cleaning can also cause ear wax jams. So it’s very important to follow any hearing aid cleaning and gentle ear washing instructions that your hearing care professional gives you.
4. Stop Ear Cleaning Injuries
Parents, grandparents and people everywhere—please be careful with your and your children’s ears! Teach them how to brush their teeth, but also teach them not to stick anything into their ears for ear wax removal. Teach them to be grateful for their ear wax! Every day, somewhere in America, 34 kids are rushed to the doctor with ear cleaning injuries. Unfortunately, these injuries sometimes cause hearing loss that impacts the child’s language and communication development. So teach your kids not to put anything in their ears except their elbows (and then giggle as they try to do it). But seriously, the most common of these ear injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small lacerations and cuts inside of the ear canal.
If you were just about to ask us about ear candling, we were just about to answer: don’t do it! Nobody knows exactly who thought of sticking these hollow cones into your ear and setting them on fire, but we’re here to tell you—it’s a bad idea and can also cause hearing loss. So don’t do it. People across the country end up in the doctor’s office with ear candling injuries every year.
3 things you need to know about ear candling:
- It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
- It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
- It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.
Bottom line: Avoid ear candles!
5. Here’s a Safe Ear Cleaning Method…
All you need to do, really, is shower and wash your hair. Then just gently dab around your ears with a towel to sop up any excess water and you’re done. This will safely remove only the spent ear wax that your chewing, talking and yawning have evacuated from the ear canal.
Seriously – don’t pick up another swab! If not cleaning your ears the wrong way makes you feel awkward, or if you have any other concerns about ear wax impaction, ear injury or hearing loss, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional for an ear checkup today.