There is a belief among older traditions that the ears are our most meaningful sense organ, and hence, God himself designed them to stay open at all times. Even if you do not align to this arcane belief, there is no doubt about the immense value our ears have in our lives. Therefore, It is critical to keep them in peak health at all times.
Fortunately, our body is self-sufficient in many ways, and our ears need very little upkeep. While wax can collect in our ears, it is also a protective layer which naturally dissolves—on its own.
In fact, most people may never need to clean their ears during their whole life! If you are among the lot who do not belong to this category, this blog will help you understand how to clean your ears in a safe and painless manner.
What Are the Most Common Ear-Cleaning Mistakes?
This is a good place to start as we first discard all the erroneous (and potentially dangerous) ways to clean the ears. (If you want to learn how to clean your ears correctly, it is also important to explore how not to clean your ears!)
Using Cotton Buds
Consider this common experience that may be familiar to many. You feel the wax build-up in your ear and instinctively reach out for a cotton bud (or swab). This initially feels good. It can even give you a few moments of relief before you cry out in pain. You might have poked the delicate inner canals of your ear. In the worst-case scenario, you might have even damaged a membrane! As doctors have been reiterating, cotton buds are never an acceptable option for cleaning the ears. They can actually make things worse, pushing the wax deeper into our ears.
Using Ear Candles
You do not always need an expert to tell you how to clean your ears. Here, simple common sense tells us it is never a good idea to bring your ears close to a live (candle) flame. Besides the hazards associated with fire, this method can further aggravate the situation, especially if the wax from the candle melts and enters your ear. Note that this (candle) wax has not been naturally produced by your body and thus may be toxic to your ears. (This rules out this dubious technique of cleaning the ears.)
Using Whatever Is ‘Handy’
This is the most commonly misused technique as we deal with an itch in the ear using any handy object. (This includes your car key, a bobby pin or any pointed object). Just one moment of unawareness can lead you to rupture the entire eardrum! Do not wait until your ear is irreparably damaged before you renounce this technique for good. The ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialist’s rule of thumb is that if an object is smaller than your elbow (like cotton buds), it is not safe enough to put into your ears.
Attempting Remedies with Insufficient Knowledge/ Experience
In the next section, you will learn how to clean your ears within the comfort of your home. However, we recommend that you research these in thorough detail before you attempt them on your own. The same rule applies for any “home remedies” to clean your precious ears.
Is There a Need to Clean Your Ears?
As you will discover in this section, the answer to this question is both yes and no. In this section, we cover both regular care and care based on a health condition.
Dealing with Cerumen Impaction
The wax in your ears in called cerumen, and is intentionally generated by your body as a protective and self-cleaning mechanism. It keeps dust and other harmful particles from entering the inner (and more delicate) portion of your ear. It is also naturally dissolved by the body by the various motions of the jaw(like chewing). The problem arises when the wax begins to collect over time. This can happen due to various factors, like the shape of your ear, your age (more common in infants and seniors), history of developmental difficulties in your genes, frequent usage of earplugs or hearing aids, etc.
When this happens, it is called cerumen impaction. This is characterized by frequent irritation or ringing in the ears, an earache, a bad ear odor and coughing. Fortunately, this is still a rare occurrence as less than one in ten people will need to learn how to clean your ears to minimize cerumen impaction.
Dealing with an Ear Infection
This will depend on the severity of the infection. We urge you to have it checked by a medical professional first. If the infection is characterized only by pain (without fluid drainage or blockage), you may be advised to use over-the-counter eardrops which can be applied and later rinsed out to clean the ears. In some cases, the infection may also be easily addressed with over-the-counter painkillers. (We still recommend that you check with a medical professional and do not self-medicate.)
Regular Ear Care
Just as with the rest of our body, it is important to learn how to clean your ears correctly so they remain healthy at all times. For this reason, we recommend that you schedule a yearly or half-yearly ear check-up with your GP (general practitioner or physician). Your doctor will be more likely to detect internal wax build-up before it becomes a larger health problem.
In addition to this, your ears require minimal care, including a daily wash with light scrubbing. You can also use a damp cloth to clean within and around your ears. Unless the wax has hardened, this is sufficient to keep your ears in good shape.
Finally, always remember to keep your ears dry (especially relevant for swimmers). If water enters your ear’s inner canal, this too can cause an infection, impaction or even ear blockage.
How to Clean Your Ears Safely
In this section, we help you explore how to clean your ears in order to eradicate cerumen impaction quickly and safely.
A professional ear irrigation is executed by a medical professional in order to clear your ears of (excess) wax and other harmful debris, like insects and dust particles. If this is left unattended, it can cause ear blockage and eventually lead to deafness. To address this safely, an ear doctor will first use an otoscope to study the state and health of your ears. This device produces a magnified image of your (middle and inner) ear so the doctor can gauge the amount of wax/debris that has collected within the ears. If this is high, the doctor may first use a wax-softener which is mostly made of a saline solution.
Following this, the doctor will use a syringe to remove the unwanted particles. Here, do not let the term “syringe” scare you off as this is a relatively blunt device. It has been exclusively designed for (painless) ear cleaning and irrigation.
If the earwax build-up is not large enough to warrant a professional irrigation, you can implement a perfectly safe irritation at home. For this, visit your local pharmacy for softening eardrops that are available over the counter. (These eardrops are safe to use without a prescription as they typically contain mild ingredients, like baby oil or glycerine.) To use them, you must first clean your ears with a damp cloth and pat them dry. Then, gently tip two to three drops of the eardrop into your ear. Wait for five minutes (or as suggested in the product’s instructions). Once the wax has softened, gently rinse out your ear, and pat dry.
Some people also choose to follow this process by additionally irrigating with a syringe. We recommend against this unless you are an expert or have prior experience. An ear syringe is less sharp for sure but can still cause ear damage if it is inattentively used by a novice.
Regardless of the state of your ears, you will need to seek professional help to clean your ears if you:
- Have been diagnosed with diabetes
- Are recovering from a recent sickness
- Suffer from poor/low immunity (including auto-immune disorders)
- Suffer from an ear infection
- Have recently had ear surgery or have tubes attached to your ears
Clean ears are a must, actually clean ears with a little bit of wax. You can protect yourself from excessive wax by learning how to clean your ears frequently and safely. (Perhaps also painlessly!) The tips listed in this blog will point you in the right direction. If there is one last suggestion we can give you, it is to avoid self-medication.
The ears are low-maintenance organs that require little from us. When they demand our attention—because of a painful infection or a nagging impaction—you are better off paying your doctor a visit. It is to reassure you and so that you can categorically rule out any sinister complication. You only get one pair, so ensure their care and protection. They are more than worth it!©
Clara was born and grew up in Great Britain, and although she’s now happier with the weather in North Carolina where she resides with her partner, she does miss the ubiquitous teacakes. She graduated from a master’s in literature and worked for about 5 years at local news magazines as a reporter.