How to Properly Clean Your Ears
Hearing is a wonderful thing and the instrument, through which we hear, the ear, is miraculous in design. This miniature marvel of engineering converts sound waves into mechanical energy, which generates a tiny electrical current to stimulate auditory nerves supplying the brain.
But the wonder doesn’t stop there because the ear is also self-cleaning. To understand this it helps to know some basic anatomy.
Ear anatomy and ear cleaning
The ear is divided into three compartments:
- The ear canal: This connects the external ear (pinna) via a canal to the eardrum. The latter is a window into the middle ear
- The middle ear: Is sandwiched between the ear canal and inner ear. It contains three tiny bones articulated together. Their job is to transmit mechanical movements of the eardrum (in response to sound) to the inner chamber of the ear.
- The inner ear: This delicate structure contains special apparatus to generate impulses that stimulate the auditory nerves.
While the middle and inner ear are sealed chambers, the ear canal is exposed to the air and the dust, pollution, and bacteria that go with it. These all have the potential to damage the ear and the delicate skin lining the canal by setting up infection.
Infection in the ear canal has the potential to track downwards into the middle or inner ear, so the ear is designed to keep itself clean. To do this the lining of the ear canal produces a special waxy substance. Not only is this great at preventing the skin from drying out, but it forms a protective barrier that traps dust and bacteria.
But a whole load of dirty wax would be as bad as no wax, so the ear has a mechanism to remove wax from the ear. This is a slow moving ‘elevator’ which encourages wax produced deep down near the eardrum to travel upwards to the external ear where it can be wiped away.
So why do you need to clean your ears?
Sometimes things get out of kilter and the ear produces too much wax, with the potential to clog up the ear canal and prevent the transmission of sound waves. Other times, the wax produced is too dry and doesn’t ‘move’ as easily as it should, causing plugs or blockages.
Can ear cleaning do harm?
Yes it can.
That most popular of ear cleaning tools – the cotton swab – is the worst offender. Unfortunately, a cotton bud pushed down the ear canal has the effect of ramming the wax before it and compacting it. In addition, another danger is pushing the cotton bud too far and damaging the eardrum or the bones of the middle ear.
If your ears need extra help to stay clean, speak to your hearing care provider about the safe way to go about it. They recommend an ear cleaner which helps condition the skin lining the ear canal, and is effective, yet gentle, and does more good than harm.