Most people are surprised to hear that we don’t recommend the use of cotton swabs to clean their ears. In fact, we recommend the opposite – to not use them at all, for many important reasons. One important reason is that earwax is a good substance. That’s right, it’s good. Not only is earwax good to have, it can also pose many problems when not properly removed. By the way, “earwax” is just a nickname – the proper term is “cerumen”. In this blog we will briefly look at how cotton swab products can be harmful to your ear canals and hearing health.
The first issue with cotton swabs is that people ignore the warning on the box of swabs that says “to avoid injury, do not insert into ear canal”. It is not safe to insert any foreign object into your ear canal; after all, you cannot see what you are doing. Secondly, without an ample amount of earwax, our ears become much more susceptible to dry skin, irritation, itchiness and debris entering the ear. Cerumen is a protective substance. Additionally, usage of cotton swabs to clean out earwax poses other threats to ear and hearing health. All too often, we see patients that have used cotton swabs in an attempt to remove earwax but, instead, actually pushed a good amount of earwax or other debris further down into the ear canal, sometimes even against the eardrum. In many cases, this earwax buildup can become impacted and very difficult and painful to remove. If impacted, earwax blocks the passage of sound from the outer ear to the eardrum and can cause temporary hearing loss and other complications. The impacted earwax may even help breed bacteria and fungi, possibly causing irritating or harmful ear infections.
Instead of poking around your ear canal with a cotton swab, we suggest you follow these simple guidelines. For the most part, leave your ear canals alone. At the very least, reduce the frequency of earwax clean-up to only a couple of times a month, at the most. If you feel you must assist your ear canal’s natural ability to remove earwax, create a cleaning solution by combining white distilled vinegar and rubbing alcohol (don’t use wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc. as they contain sugars). Simply put a few drops of the solution in your ear to kill bacteria. Then, to remove the solution and any earwax coming out, dab a paper towel around the outer part of your ear and entrance to your ear canal, resisting the temptation to stick anything into your ear canal. But honestly, the best solution is to simply clean the outer part of the ear with a washcloth when taking a shower or bath, and leave your ear canals alone. Your ear canals usually take pretty good care of themselves.
If you feel like you, or a loved one, may be experiencing hearing loss due to earwax buildup, we are happy to help you. At every complimentary hearing consultation, we look inside your ears for wax buildup using our video otoscope. If we determine there is impacted earwax, we will show you and make a recommendation to remedy the situation. Simply submit your information on our Contact Us page or call our office during business hours to request your free appointment. Our phone number is (907) 451-4327.