By Kevin Gong
Some people swear by their cotton swabs, and others say ear candles are the way to go. Maybe you’re one of those that say you should never even clean your ears. The only thing doctors do agree on is that putting anything inside your ear is a bad idea. Your ears usually do a good job cleaning themselves and don’t need any extra care. The only reason you should clean them is to soften or remove earwax from the outside of your ear canals. And if you’re going to do that, you’ll need to know how to do it carefully.
Using cotton swabs or similar objects can push the earwax further into the ear canal, or worse, puncture your eardrum and cause hearing loss. Besides cotton swabs or any other small or pointy objects, do not use ear candles to clean your ears. Studies show they’re not effective and they can even cause injury. These hollow candles are supposed to be inserted into the ear canal and lit at the exposed end, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found they can cause burns and even pierce the inside of the ear.
The reason we feel tempted to clean our ears is because of that substance called cerumen, commonly called earwax. It’s normal for your body to produce it, and it actually helps protect and lubricate your ears. If you didn’t have earwax, your ears would probably be itchy and dry. It even has antibacterial properties, which means your ears are self-cleaning. Earwax is like a filter for your ears, keeping out harmful things like dirt and dust, and trapping them so they don’t go deep inside.
When you chew and move your jaw, you help move old earwax out of the ear canal to the ear opening. That’s where it usually dries up and falls out. But earwax isn’t formed in the deep part of your ear canal; it’s made in the outer section.
If your problem isn’t serious, but you do feel like you have too much earwax buildup, you can gently clean the outside of your ears. Just use a washcloth or try putting a few drops of baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or glycerin in your ear to soften the wax. Alternatively, you can use an over-the-counter wax removal kit.