What We’ve Been Lead to Believe: How Is It Really Necessary to Clean Your Ear Canals?

cotton swabs

Most people are under the impression that earwax is a substance that must be removed with cotton swabs. The reality is that the earwax, medically known as cerumen, is a self-cleaning mechanism naturally produced by the body. The purpose is to lubricate the inner ear, protect the skin in the ear canal, and block dirt and bacteria from causing infections in the ear. Movements of the jaw, such as talking, chewing, and yawning remove most of the wax ton the extent that there is typically no need to clean the ear canal.

Proper Cleaning

Washing the visible parts of the ear with a damp cloth is all most people need to do to keep ears clean and clear of blockage. If the ear feels full, a small amount of baby or mineral oil can be placed in the ear to soften the wax. No other course of action is required. The use of cotton swabs or other pointy objects like bobby pins only serves to push the wax deep into the canal. This can cause infections, perforated eardrums, and significant hearing loss.


There are times when ear wax can accumulate in the ear and cause an impaction. Anyone who suspects an impaction will want to see the doctor for important reasons. The first is that a medical professional is the only person who should be sticking anything into an ear canal. The second reason is that only a doctor can determine if the symptoms indicate an excess of cerumen or are caused by an infection or other medical issues.

Common symptoms include:

  1. Coughing
  2. Ringing in the ear
  3. An earache
  4. Odor
  5. Dizziness
  6. Impaired hearing

These same symptoms can also indicate congestion of the sinuses, the severe flu, vertigo, or an ear infection. Cases of impaction, which are rare, are usually found among people who wear earplugs, those with odd-shaped ear canals, and people who wear hearing aids.

Problems with Ear Candles

Many people use ear candles to remove what they perceive to be excess wax. A cone is placed in the ear and a candle is inserted into the opening of the cone. The regular candle is lit because it is believed that the combination of heat from the candle and suction that occurs when the candle is removed successfully clears out all the earwax.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that this practice is not only ineffective but dangerous. Reports of burns, candle wax dripping into the ear canal and piercing of the inner ear have been recorded.

Ear Wax and Hearing Aids

Those who wear hearing aids that are designed to be invisible in the canal (IIC) or completely in the canal (CIC) are prone to impaction. It is important to note that this fact is not a flaw of the hearing aids, but of the care, people take in maintaining those aids.

Earwax often sticks to the end of hearing aids because they are in the canal and there is a certain amount of vibration while hearing aids are operational. If that wax is not cleaned off the hearing aids every time they are removed from the ear, the canal is susceptible to having more wax in it than is necessary.

Germs and bacteria can also be introduced into the canal which makes people prone to infections as well as impaction. An article regarding CIC hearing aids mentions that they are slightly larger than IIC designs and may make impaction less likely. Consistent and proper cleaning of all types of hearing aids is highly recommended by all manufacturers. The practice will help to prolong the life of the hearing aid(s) and the batteries as well.

A damp cloth is all that is needed to keep ears clean. Use all those cotton swabs for makeup removal, taking off nail polish, or applying ointment to cuts and scrapes. Keep them far away from the ear canal and let the body remove the wax naturally.

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