What is the best way to clean earwax (cerumen)?

Ear wax (cerumen) is usually made in the middle portion of the ear canal. With typical skin growth pattern of the ear canal, it is slowly delivered to the outside. There are many theories about the reasons why ear wax is made to begin with, but none of them have been proven to be scientific.

In most people, the ear wax should have an easy time slowly migrating from the midportion of the ear canal to the outer portion, where it can be easily reachable. However, some people make more ear wax, and some people’s ear wax tends to be of a more sticky nature. Alternatively, some people might have smaller ear canals that may trap the secretions more readily.

The optimal way of maintaining clean ears is to do a small amount of cleaning on a daily basis. This is ideally done after taking a shower, when the moisture from the water has softened some of the ear wax. You can then grab a small finger and wrap a tissue around it, and clean the ears only to the extent the fingers can reach.

Many people have been using Q-Tips or other small blunt objects on a regular basis to clean the ear wax. Q-Tips are usually smaller than our small fingers and can penetrate deeper into the ear canals. However, since the Q-Tips are blunt and don’t necessarily have any quality to actually go behind the ear wax and drag it out, there is a chance of actually pushing the ear wax deeper down than it was created to begin with. This can actually lead to more impaction of the ear wax, blocking the ears altogether. This is the reason that Q-Tips are not meant to be use in the ear canals. Interestingly, you can read this right on the box of Q-Tips and learn about this common misconception.

Despite daily cleaning, some people may still tend to accumulate more ear wax than the average. There are peroxide based preparations that are sold in most pharmacies over-the-counter. Some of them are dispensed with droppers. Others may have a syringe ball that would help flush the solution in, and then vacuum the debris out. It is important to remember that no amount of eardrops make the ear wax disappear; they simply make the wax softer which then in turn would generally have an easier time coming out spontaneously. If there is a large amount of ear wax present to begin with, application of peroxide drops would expand the ear wax and actually clog up the ears even more. It is important to remember that the ear wax then needs to be removed either at home or professionally to clean up the ears.

Some people’s degree of ear wax is severe enough that they have to be seen by a specialist. Many general physicians and internist prefer a flushing technique to remove the contents of the ear canal. Ear, nose, and throat specialist have more advanced tools to tailor the cleaning method to the individual quantity and texture of the ear wax. This would include special curettes as well as vacuuming.

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Posted in: Ears

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