Earwax, we’re all familiar with it and all of our ears produce it. The medical name is cerumen and it’s produced by the body to trap particles to keep them from getting deep into the ear canal. To ensure good hearing health means keeping your ears free of excess wax, but the inner ears are delicate and it’s important to clean them properly to avoid damage.

Ears are self-cleaning

The ear produces wax from the outer ear. As new wax is produced, the old wax is pushed further outwards. As particles are trapped, the wax dries and falls off or is removed during normal bathing. Old wax will also dry up and can normally be removed during a shower or bath.

To keep ears clean, use a soft washcloth to wipe the outer portion of the ear to remove old and dried wax. Just place a washcloth or damp towel over your index finger and gently wipe the outer portion of the ear. Do not put your finger, the towel or anything else in your ear.

Caution with cotton swabs

Cotton swabs have been on the market since the 1920’s, and were originally used to help keep the ear canals clean. However, this practice is strongly discouraged by audiologists and even on the cotton swabs packaging.

When you place a cotton swab in your ear, you are pushing the wax further into the ear. If you must use a cotton swab on your ear, only clean the outer portion of the ear. Do not place the swab in the ear canal. Using cotton swabs in your ear canal can result in earwax impaction or a ruptured eardrum.

Excess or hardened wax

Some people produce more wax than is necessary and more than the ear can push out with normal chewing, talking and other jaw motions. This can lead to wax buildup. Additionally, as we age, we produce a dry, hard wax that can be difficult to remove.

If you wear earplugs or hearing aids you are more likely to have a problem with impacted earwax or hardened earwax. Some excess or hardened wax can be safely removed at home.

  • Baby oil: Two drops of baby oil applied twice a day may soften wax so it can be removed with a warm damp washcloth.
  • Peroxide or commercial solution: A few drops of a mixture of equal parts warm water and hydrogen peroxide or a commercial ear cleaning solution can be placed in the ear. Lie on your side and add a few drops to the upper ear. Wait 20 minutes, then roll to the other side and allow the ear to drain onto a clean towel.

What not to do

Don’t use a syringe, suction or ear candles. Don’t insert anything into the ear canal. Any of these methods can cause permanent damage to the delicate structures of the inner ear.

Earwax removal by the audiologist

Sometimes, despite proper ear cleaning methods and allowing nature to take it’s course, wax impactions can occur. Call the audiologist if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Earache
  • Fullness or ringing in the ear
  • Impaired hearing
  • Odor coming from the ear
  • Dizziness

Your audiologist can examine your ears with an otoscope to determine if you have impacted or hardened earwax. If so, the audiologist can use special tools such as a cerumen spoon to remove the wax. Professional micro-suction or irrigation procedures may be necessary. While these are safe when professional performed in the audiologist’s office, suction or irrigation should not be tried at home.