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Ear Wax Cleaning: How To Do It Safely

Medically reviewed by Danielle Vitan, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 17, 2022

    Ear Wax Cleaning: How To Do It Safely

    Ear wax also goes by the name cerumen, and it plays a significant role in your body. Ear wax helps remove dirt, debris, hair, and dead skin cells from your ear canal. It prevents your ears from becoming itchy and uncomfortable, and it reduces the risk of infection. However, while it does have some beneficial properties, having too much of it can lead to buildup and ear canal blockage. What’s the most effective technique for ear wax cleaning?

    Ear Wax Cleaning: Here’s Why You Should Do It

    Earwax acts as a filter for your ears, keeping out potentially harmful substances like dirt and dust, trapping them so they don’t travel deep further within the ear canal. It even has antibacterial properties that make your ears self-cleaning. If too much earwax accumulates and hardens, it may form a plug that can block your ear. This can affect your hearing and be uncomfortable or painful. People whose bodies produce a lot of earwax have a higher risk of developing earwax blockage and cerumen impaction.

    When you have an earwax blockage, the pressure of the obstruction stimulates an ear nerve, causing a feeling of fullness in your ear.

    Other symptoms include ear infections, earaches, ear ringing (tinnitus), itching, coughing, and vertigo (an unsteady sensation that can cause nausea and dizziness).

    Hazards of Home Ear Wax Cleaning

    Many people mistakenly believe that cotton swabs, napkin corners, paper clips, or even hairpins can clean their ears. However, when you insert a foreign object into your ear, you run the risk of pushing earwax deeper into your ear, or harming your eardrum and ear canal. These can result in serious complications. This is especially important if you have a perforation (hole) in your eardrum, have had ear surgery, are experiencing ear drainage, or are experiencing pain or discomfort in your ears.

    Complications of inappropriate earwax removal include:

    • Ear drum perforation
    • Otitis external
    • Damage to the external canal
    • Discomfort
    • Hearing
    • Vertigo
    • Tinnitus

    It must be emphasized that people should only clean or remove earwax from their ears under the supervision of a physician. Earwax removal can be a straightforward procedure. But if performed incorrectly, it can seriously harm a person’s hearing. If you suspect that you are experiencing any of the aforementioned ear symptoms, consult your doctor.

    Children, on the other hand, often have their ears examined at their yearly physicals. If necessary, the primary care doctor will remove any excess earwax from your child’s ear during the office visit.

    When to seek medical attention

    Your eardrum and ear canal are delicate, so while you can treat an earwax blockage at home, it will be safer to let your ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor perform the earwax removal.

    If removing ear wax at home is not successful, or if you have an accumulation of wax in your ear that is causing a blockage in your ear canal and is affecting your hearing, seek medical attention. You should also see your doctor if you have any drainage or bleeding coming from your ear, or if you are in a lot of pain. Another ENT issue to consider would be the source behind these symptoms.

    Ear wax cleaning solutions

    Your doctor can prescribe you specific ear drops that will help soften the wax, or they may just vacuum or wash it out. Also, a curette (a small surgical tool), a rubber ball syringe, irrigation, and suction can all be used to remove ear blockage. In some cases, an ENT or otolaryngologist might need a microscopic visualization procedure to remove the wax.

    Before using any over-the-counter therapies, you should consult a doctor if you believe you may have a perforated eardrum. When there is an eardrum perforation, putting eardrops or other products in your ear can result in infection. Even washing water through a perforation can lead to an infection.

    Since ear drops may irritate sensitive eardrum and ear canal skin, you need to take them just as your doctor instructs you to. If you have a persistent earwax buildup issue, your doctor may recommend a wax-removal medication like carbamide peroxide.

    If you suspect your child has impacted cerumen, schedule a visit with a pediatrician. They can inspect your child’s ears and recommend the proper course of treatment.

    Key Takeaway

    What’s best if you want ear wax cleaning done? Have it done by a doctor. Professional ear cleaning can help you prevent infection, improve your hearing, and generally feel better. Medical professionals can also assess your overall ear health and offer any maintenance recommendations. 

    Learn more about Skincare and Cleansing here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Danielle Vitan, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Oct 17, 2022

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