cotton swab or not? How to thoroughly and safely clean your ears

Earwax does not look nice and if it leaks out of the ear canal, it is perceived as unclean.

For this reason, consumers like to use the so-called “Q-Tip” to remove excess earwax.

However, ear, nose and throat doctors expressly advise against this.

They explain that any attempt to clean the ear canal, even if only with the help of the little finger, only pushes the earwax deeper into the ear canal.

But there is a very simple solution to keep your ears clean.

Earwax protects the ear canal

It’s understandable that earwax has such a bad reputation, given its sticky texture and unpleasant odor.

In fact, however, it has a useful role in the ear.

Earwax protects the ear from dirt and bacteria. In this way, often very painful ear infections are prevented.

How ears clean themselves

The ENT doctor Dr. medical Christopher Chang, from Warrenton, Virginia, doesn’t understand all the fuss about ear cleaning because: “Ears are self-cleaning,” he told online magazine SELF.

Jaw movements, for example when speaking, naturally expel earwax from the inner ear, explains Dr. medical Erich Voigt, ENT doctor and medical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, continues.

Better not to clean the ear canal

Doctors therefore advise against cleaning anything other than the external ear.

Narrow objects should never be inserted into the ear, as this only pushes the wax further into the ear canal and can lead to a blockage.

The thin layer of tissue that is supposed to protect the eardrum can also be injured. In this case, experts speak of a perforated eardrum.

Both can affect hearing.

How useful are Q-tips and ear candling?

The basic rule is: Nothing should be put in the ear.

The Q-tips frequently used for this are also not suitable for use in the auditory canal – this is even indicated in some cases on the packaging.

Not only do they push earwax deeper into the ear canal, they can also rupture structures in the ear and thus promote infection.

The liquid wax in an ear candle is supposed to suck in the earwax and eventually pull it out of the ear.

The mere fact that an open flame is held next to the ear makes this procedure dangerous enough, according to Dr. Voigt.

However, there is also the risk of hot candle wax flowing deep into the ear canal up to the eardrum.

Also a clear no to earwax softeners, which are mostly based on mineral oil or glycerin. They ensure that earwax blockages melt.

However, there is a risk that the earwax will run deeper into the ear – instead of out of the ear – and consequently form a much more serious obstruction for the hearing ability.

This is how the ear should be cleaned

dr Voigt recommends cleaning your ears in the shower with a washcloth and then gently drying them with a towel.

With both, cleaning should be limited to the outer ear. Cleaning the auricle and behind the ears with pH-neutral soap products makes sense.

Anything beyond that – and this also means the minimal cleaning of the outer ear canal – would disturb the auditory canal in its natural self-cleaning.

Important NOTE: The information in this article contains general information only. To clarify severe ear pain or poor hearing, we recommend a visit to a trained and recognized ear, nose and throat doctor.

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Braithwaite, P. – SELF (2020): How to Clean Your Ears Without Injuring Yourself, accessed 30.07.2020

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