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What's the Right Way to Clean My Ears?

We know.

You keep hearing that you shouldn’t use a cotton swab to clean your ears, yet every other morning you plunge one into your ear canal and savor the satisfaction of seeing it emerge clean or slightly yellow.

But seriously, you shouldn’t use cotton swabs to clean your inner ear. It’s dangerous and makes things worse.

Why shouldn’t I use cotton swabs to clean my ears?

If cotton swabs aren’t for cleaning your ears, what are they for, right?

Most cotton swab packaging offers alternative uses for cotton swabs (including cleaning the outer ear, not the ear canal), so they have their uses — but digging around in your ear canal isn’t one of them.

It’s true: cotton swabs often push excess earwax toward the ear drum. This can damage the sensitive ear drum or make the ear wax impacted, or compressed, near the ear drum. Impacted ear wax can lead to pain, pressure, a bad odor and even ringing in your ears.

A good rule of thumb: keep your thumbs out of your ears. Also, fingers, cotton swabs, bobby pins, pen caps and anything else that shouldn’t be shoved into your ears.

How should I clean my ears?

You should periodically use softening oils — like baby oil or mineral oil — to loosen the wax and debris in your ears.

Lie on your side with one ear facing the ceiling. Dribble a little of the oil into your ear, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Clean your ear with a towel and repeat on the other side.

You don’t have to clean your ears every day.

Your ears are not your teeth; you don’t have to clean them daily.

Ears should have a little wax; it keeps the ears clear and lubricated. Believe it or not, everything you do to “flex” your ears — including your facial expressions — helps to break up deposits in your ear canals and push them out.

There are exceptions. If you wear hearing aids or earbuds regularly, you may experience a buildup of wax in your ears because they’re routinely blocking the ear canal. You may need to clean your ears more often.

Ear candling is dangerous.

Ear candling may be all the rage among your friends on Facebook, but it’s a terrible idea in practice.

Ear candling involves inserting a hollow candle into your ear canal. Lit, the candle should create a vacuum that pulls out your earwax.

In practice, not only does ear candling not work at dislodging earwax; it also can burn surrounding tissues, causing pain and infections in the ear.

What do I do if I have recurring earwax blockages?

If you have recurring earwax blockages, you should consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. These problems are not uncommon, but we have evidence-based solutions that will help.

Need an ENT?

We have ear, nose and throat specialists in Carrollton, Villa Rica and Bremen. Find one near you at tanner.org/find-a-provider.

Family Health Care, Primary Care, Pediatric Care

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