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Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

Put the swabs down and back away slowly. If you were thinking of putting that in your ear, you should know that your hearing care professional, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)
and even the warning on your box of swabs agree with your grandmother’s wise adage: never stick anything bigger than your elbow into your ear. Besides, ear wax is good for you, and here’s 5 reasons why:

1. Your Ears Clean Themselves Quite Well, Actually

Cerumen (the scientific word for ear wax) is your ears’ own cleaning solvent. It traps dirt and dust entering the ear canal, preventing it from slipping deeper down where it could get impacted and block your ear drum and dull your hearing. The ordinary daily mechanics of yawning, chewing and talking moves the dirty ear wax out of the ear canal so you don’t have to do anything except take a regular shower. Using a swab, fork, chopstick, finger, key, paintbrush or any other foreign object for ear wax removal will negate your ears’ self-cleaning efforts, pushing dirty old ear wax deeper into the canal where it can get impacted and cause hearing loss.

2. Ear Wax Was Designed to Help

Sure, cerumen may look worse than liver and onions, but your ceruminous and sebaceous glands make this special recipe for the health of your ears. Besides shoving dirt, dust and crud out of your ears, ear wax protects your ears against bacteria, fungal infections and viruses. Amazingly, it even repels insects! It also protects and lubricates the inside of the ear canal to keep it healthy.

In fact, these glands whip up a special recipe of cholesterol, fatty acids, enzymes, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, and other chemicals especially for your ears—the end result is ear-protecting ear wax. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth.

3. Hearing Loss from Ear Cleaning is a Real Thing

When you swab, jab or dig around for ear wax removal, you inadvertently push soiled ear wax further down into your ear canal where it’s harder to remove and can cause some level of hearing loss. It may even become impacted and have to be removed professionally. If you’ve been doing this for years, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Now, if you need to wear hearing aids, you do need to pay attention to ear wax buildup and proper ear cleaning because sometimes that can impact ear wax into the ear canal. But still—no swabs! That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Ear Cleaning Injuries Hurt

Ear cleaning injuries happen to at least 34 kids in America every day—painful, hearing loss causing injuries that land them in the doctor’s office. These injuries can damage kids’ hearing during important developmental years. Sometimes it’s the well-meaning parents that do it, but sometimes it’s the kids themselves, so this message is really for the whole family: stop cleaning out those ears and keep swabs and other sharp pointy objects out of reach. The most common ear injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small lacerations and cuts inside of the ear canal.

We hear some of you out there thinking out loud about “ear candling”. It’s long been touted as a “natural ear wax removal” practice by many natural health food stores, but this is an ear cleaning method you should definitely avoid. Those who practice it stick a cone-shaped, hollow candle-like thing into their ear canals and set it on fire. Needless to say, thousands of people end up in the doctor’s office with ear candling injuries every year.

Important things to remember about ear candling:

  • It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.

So just… don’t do it!

5. So Stop Cleaning Your Ears Today!

Just take a shower, wash your hair, rinse out your ears in the process and dab with a towel afterward. That’s really all you need for healthy, safe ear cleaning as it removes the ear wax your ear has already pushed out of the canal.

If you really struggle with this advisory on ear wax, or worry that there may be some ear wax impaction, hearing loss or injury to your ear, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional right away.