Why does earwax get such a bum rap? Earwax actually is a good thing and does a great deal to help our ears stay clean. Earwax protects the inside of your ear canal, lubricates it and provides protection against bacteria. It may not sound correct, but you want to have wax in your ears! So how do you go about cleaning your ears? Here are some dos and don’ts.

Do be gentle

It doesn’t take much effort to wipe away earwax from outside your ears. A tissue or washcloth will get the job done. Your ears don’t need a daily cleaning, which actually can do more harm than good. Ears have a self-cleaning system that sweeps the earwax, dirt, debris and bacteria out to the outer ear. Also, your jaw movement helps earwax migrate out.

Don’t use cotton swabs (or other items)

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recently updated its guidelines and plainly stated that cotton swabs are “not appropriate for earwax removal.” The guidelines go on, “say no to putting anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.” That includes toothpicks, hairpins, pen caps and house keys. Why? Because these items can scratch your ear canal, rupture eardrums and even dislocate the delicate bones in your ear. Cotton swabs may push earwax back into the ear canal, leading to impaction. Cotton swabs should only be used on your outer ear, if at all.

Do pay attention to any changes in your ears

If you have a feeling of fullness or sounds seem muffled, you may have an earwax blockage. These are also symptoms of other potential problems, so it’s important to see your audiologist if you notice any changes in your hearing or how your ears feel. Also be sure to ask before using at-home treatments such as eardrops or wax softening products, especially if you recently had any problems with your ears.

Don’t fall for fads

Don’t use ear candles, period. Ear candling involves the use of a special hollow candle that is lit above your ear to supposedly remove earwax. It’s a dangerous practice that can seriously injure your ear canal or eardrum. Injuries from ear candling include burns, infections, eardrum perforations and temporary hearing loss.

Do keep your hearing aids clean

Earwax build-up on your hearing aids impairs performance. Keep them clean by wiping your devices down with a dry cloth and using the special tools provided to clean out any wax.

It’s natural to want to keep your ears clean. But it’s not often that your ears need extra help! Following these dos and don’ts should keep earwax in balance. And remember, don’t reach for those cotton swabs! When it comes to ear cleaning, that’s the hardest rule to follow – but the absolute best way to maintain healthy ears.