Cerumen – commonly referred to as ear wax – is a natural secretion by the human body. Knowing how to clean your ears properly ensures that you are protecting your hearing health.

Why do we have earwax?

Although it is commonly believed that cerumen buildup is an indication of poor cleanliness and poor hygiene, cerumen is actually very beneficial and serves an extremely important purpose. Cerumen is secreted by glands in the skin which line the outer half of your ear canals. The wax and tiny hairs collect dust, dead cells, and debris – such as hairspray and allergens – and prevents the substances from dangerously traveling deeper into the ear. This protects deeper structures in your ear, such as the eardrums, from suffering damage. Cerumen also moisturizes the ear canal and prevents germs and harmful bacteria from attacking the ear.

How to properly remove cerumen

Because cerumen is so critical to the health of your ears, you should always avoid excessive and aggressive use of “entrenching tools,” such as cotton swabs or tooth picks. Instead, follow these guidelines to ensure the health of your ears. Understandably, some individuals worry about the cosmetic aspect of outer ear cerumen buildup. A simple wash with warm water and soap removes the visible cerumen and keeps the cerumen inside the ears safe. Serious cases of cerumen build up should receive special attention.

What not to do when cleaning your ears

Some people may desire to remove the cerumen with swabs, but this is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First off, using swabs can push earwax deeper into your ear, causing problems. They can damage your ear canal and even eardrums, causing irreversible damage. Avoid putting any of the following things in your ear canal:

  • Cotton swabs
  • Cotton balls
  • Fingers
  • Pencils, tweezers, or other objects
  • Scraping tools or anything pointed

A simple rule to follow is: don’t put anything in your ears, even if you believe that they are clogged with earwax. Not only will you not resolve your problems, you also run the risk of causing serious damage to your ears.

When to visit an audiologist

Individuals with too little ear wax are likely to be prone to ear infections and itchy ears. And while cerumen is good for your ears, there can be too much of a good thing. Too much earwax can cause other problems which can threaten the health of your ears. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek attention from a hearing care professional, such as an audiologist.

  • Hearing loss: When too much earwax builds up or gets impacted, it can cause temporary hearing loss.
  • Sensation of stuffiness or fullness in ear canal: Excessive earwax buildup can also cause a sensation of stuffing or fullness in your ear canal.
  • Ear ringing (tinnitus): Earwax impaction can cause ringing in the ear, which usually manifests itself as a high-pitched sound.
  • Persistent itching: Issues with earwax can cause persistent itching in your ears
  • Discharge (reappearing oozing substances): Discharge is a definite sign that you should see an audiologist.

If you notice any of the problems above, it is of the highest professional recommendation to NOT attempt any form of self-treatment. Doing so may cause damage to your ears and hearing (see hearing loss and communication).

Preventing cerumen buildup & keeping your ears healthy

To prevent these serious cases and to ensure the health of your ears, it is critical you see a hearing care professional every 6-12 months; they can use safe methods to remove and/or reduce cerumen buildup as well as monitor your hearing condition (see hearing aid maintenance). Some hearing care professionals can even provide home-use products that help dissolve cerumen. Source: Earinfo.com

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