Earwax: The Do’s and Don’ts

Posted: February 22 2019

 So it turns out that your mother was right! Do not put something in your ear smaller than your elbow. Yes, this means no cotton swabs, toothpicks, paperclips, bobby pins, or any other little objects you might find around the house.  It may give you an immediate sense of relief from a little itch; however, it does not come without its own risks.

Irritation of the ear canal caused by these instruments can easily occur as this layer of skin is very sensitive and thin.  Individuals who are taking blood thinners such as Warfarin need to be especially careful not to scrape the ear canal as they are more prone to bleeding, and are less capable of producing clotting factors to stop the bleeding.  Having abrasions inside the ear canal can not only cause irritation but also leave the skin open to infection. A worst-case scenario is harming your eardrum.  This is something physicians and audiologists have seen time and again.  Accidents do happen, and pushing a cotton swab or other object through your eardrum is very painful and can lead to serious damage. Traumatic perforations of the eardrum can also lead to hearing loss, which may or may not be reversible. Therefore, it's wise to follow these tips to protect your ears and hearing health:

DO: Nothing. Your ears are self-cleaning, and earwax is a healthy normally occurring substance that is made to protect the ear.  If your earwax is not causing symptoms like hearing loss or blocking your ear canal, it is better left alone.  However, if you suffer from excessive earwax, the best way to keep your ears from becoming blocked (impacted) is to use a cerumenolytic (earwax softener).  All you need to do is place a couple drops of mineral oil, (baby oil, olive oil, or other cerumenolytics) into your ear canal every night for one week each month.  This helps to soften the wax, making it easier to migrate out of your ear canal, naturally. 

If you are uncertain as to whether or not wax is the issue, please seek advice from your audiologist, primary care physician, or otolaryngologist. These professionals can properly assess the problem and provide treatment solutions that are safe and specific to your concern. If you wake up with a loss of hearing or experience a sudden dramatic decrease in hearing, please see an audiologist right away.  Oftentimes, patients disregard these symptoms and believe it is just a sign of wax or allergies.  However, it may be something more serious, like a sudden sensorineural type of hearing loss.  In this case, it is a medical emergency and it is critical to seek treatment within 48 hours of the onset. 

DON'T: Excessively clean your ears or use foreign objects to do so; you may be placing yourself at risk for unnecessary complications.  Do not use "ear candling" as this is not an effective evidence-based practice, and can actually lead to serious damage of the ear canal and/or eardrum. If you have a history of ear surgery, tubes, or eardrum perforations, don't use at-home techniques to remove wax from your ears; seek guidance from a medical professional as you could inadvertently exacerbate these issues.

It's better to be safe than sorry. So when in doubt, leave it out and ask an audiologist!

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