What is the Best Way to Clean My Ears?

Many people contemplate what is the best way to clean the ears.  To understand my recommendations, let’s discuss the basis anatomy of the outer ear first.  The ear canal is narrow and hollow tubing that ends in the eardrum.  Earwax is usually made in the mid section of the ear canal, and it slowly comes out with the passage of time.  However, if the earwax accumulates, the ear can feel blocked and subsequent sensation of hearing loss ensues.

Let’s also review the basic physiology of the ear canal and earwax production.  In other parts of the body, as we take a shower, the dead skin sheds off and new skin is generated from the bottom up.  Since the skin of the ear canal is not generally accessible to typical cleaning during a shower, the ear has adopted other mechanisms for cleaning itself.  The center of growth of the ear canal skin is actually on the eardrum itself (this is how most perforations of the eardrum can generally heal themselves spontaneously).  As the ear skin grows from the center of the eardrum, older skin slowly migrates towards the outside of the ear, and it stops at the junction of the entrance of the ear canal to the outside world.  This growth of skin typically carries any earwax or any other particles with it.  The earwax and particles are then deposited right at the entrance of the ear canal.

Many people have the misconception that a good way to clean the ears is to use cotton tip swabs (Q-tips®).  These cotton swabs are generally the same size as the ear canal, and with inserting them into the ear canal you might actually push in the earwax deeper.  If this is done repeatedly over a period of time, the earwax can become impacted into the ear canal and make the cleaning worse.

Ideally, the best way to clean the ears on a regular basis is to simply use a finger wrapped with tissue.  After taking a shower, when everything is moist, wrap a tissue around your small finger.  Then use the finger to grab whatever you can from the entrance of the ear canal.  This is as deep as one should go, and any attempt at going deeper with a Q-tip might make matters worse by pushing the earwax back in.

Over-the-counter ear drop preparations for removal of earwax are also available.  These generally have a peroxide-based solution, which is designed to loosen any earwax accumulation.  Some people might use it preventively every few weeks to remove any residual earwax that might have accumulated over a period of time.  Additionally, if one has a sensation of excessive buildup, the ear drops might make the earwax softer and thus making it easier for the earwax to drain out spontaneously.  One general misconception is that by applying those eardrops to the ear, the earwax is going to simply disappear.  This is not the case.  The eardrops are simply designed to make the earwax softer.  Any residual softer earwax still needs to be physically removed either by a bulb syringe that comes with over-the-counter kits, or by a physician in office setting.

Alternatively, the patients with known history of recurrent earwax production and blockage should see their ear, nose, and throat specialist on a routine basis for preventive cleaning.  This will assure that the earwax is removed safely with full inspection.  Please make an appointment to see your ear, nose, and throat specialist on a regular basis for this purpose if you are affected with excessive earwax.

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