HEARING TIPS

You Can Stop Cleaning Your Ears: 5 Ways Ear Wax Keeps Them Healthy

Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

Good news for your hectic morning to-do list: cross ear cleaning right off! Your grandmother, the box of swabs in your bathroom, your hearing care professional and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) all agree on one important thing: Swabbing as an ear cleaning ritual is unnecessary and can even cause hearing loss—so stop doing it. Check out these 5 reasons why leaving that ear wax alone is a better idea than you ever knew:

1. Your Ears Can Already Clean Themselves Just Fine

Cerumen (the technical name for ear wax) is actually your ears’ very own cleaning substance. It grabs dirt and debris before it can get trapped deeper inside your ear canal. But it doesn’t stop there. Your daily talking, chewing and yawning activities physically move the ear wax out of your ear canal so all you have to do is wipe the excess away during a shower. Voila! Finished!

Using a pencil, swab, fork, key, finger, chopstick or any other pointy object for ear wax removal will negate your ears’ self-cleaning process, pushing used ear wax deeper into the canal where it can get impacted and lead to injury and hearing loss.

2. Ear Wax for the Win

Although nobody ever wants to pop an ear wax flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans jellybean, cerumen (scientific-speak for ear wax) has all kinds of health properties that help keep your ears healthy. Ear wax has several health benefits aside from moving the dirt out of your ears. It protects your ears against viruses, fungal infections, bacteria, and even insects! It also moisturizes and conditions the skin inside of the ear canal, keeping it healthy and supple.

Cerumen is a fascinating recipe of long-chain fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, enzymes and other chemicals that are produced by special glands inside your ears. Your ears concoct this special recipe to keep your ears clean and infection free. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth. Yay ear wax!

3. Swab Cleaning Hurts Hearing

When you swab, jab or dig around for ear wax removal, you inadvertently push soiled ear wax further down into your ear canal where it’s harder to remove and can cause some level of hearing loss. It may even become impacted and have to be removed professionally. If you’ve been doing this for years, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Now, if you need to wear hearing aids, you do need to pay attention to ear wax buildup and proper ear cleaning because sometimes that can impact ear wax into the ear canal. But still—no swabs! That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Other Ear Cleaning Injuries to Avoid

Nearly 12,500 American children sustain ear cleaning injuries each year for which they need a doctor’s visit. Sometimes the well-meaning parents do it under the false impression that ear cleaning is as necessary as teeth brushing. But often the kids do it themselves. These ear injuries range from tympanic membrane (ear drum) tears to cuts and lacerations along the ear canal.

And before you can ask, “But how about ear candling? Is that OK?” The answer is an emphatic NO. We’re not sure what ancient person came up with the idea of shoving a hollow cone into the ear and then lighting it on fire, but it was a bad idea from the beginning, and here’s why:

  • 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.

So no ear candling for you!

5. Clean Your Ears Like This Instead

All you really need to do is gently dab your ears dry with a towel after your daily shower and hair washing routine. Normally, this is entirely sufficient for healthy ear cleaning. But if you have any concerns about your ear health, excess ear wax, impaction, ear injury or hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional today for appropriate care – and be a little more thankful for that hard-working cerumen!

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