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Dr. Christina Debunks Earwax Removal Myths & Shares Removal Methods

Earwax: everybody has it. It is a natural occurrence that is actually helpful to the function of the ear. True, it can sometimes be a nuisance, leading to oh-so-many marketing schemes to help get rid of earwax. However, in most cases, despite its unsavory appearance, earwax is harmless – even beneficial – and can largely be left alone.

What is Earwax?

The 25-cent word for earwax is cerumen, and it is produced by the glands inside the ear canal. It works to prevent dust and other small debris from entering the ear canal, trapping it for easy removal. Usually, earwax dries and falls out of the ear naturally along with any dirt particles it has collected.

Just like the amount of hair or sweat you produce varies by person, the amount of earwax someone has is personal as well. Some individuals tend to make more earwax than others, and depending on how small their ear canal is, it can be difficult for the wax to clear on a regular basis, resulting in blockage.

Earwax Blockage: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Normal earwax production does not typically result in blockage and does not need to be regularly removed; the ear does a pretty good job of getting rid of it on its own. In fact, using Q-tips to clean out the ear is one of the causes of impaction as it often pushes earwax unnecessarily further into the ear canal. Additionally, the use of ear plugs, ear buds, and hearing aids can increase the chances of earwax buildup.

If you do happen to experience an earwax impaction, or blockage, you might notice some of the following symptoms:

In this case, contact a medical professional; do not try any home remedies because this might cause unnecessary damage and complication (more on this in a bit). In-office treatment could consist of using a curette to remove the wax, irrigation, or gentle suction.

Sometimes, a blockage could result in an infection of the ear canal, which can present with intense pain, discharge from the ear, itching, fever, and/or odor. This is definitely a time to seek medical attention immediately.

The Dangers of At-Home Earwax Removal

Now, let’s talk about the no-no’s: at-home earwax removal remedies. The ear is a delicate organ, and trying to remove an earwax blockage on your own can result in ear drum perforation, infection, and other injuries. Despite this, I still see a fair amount of product promotion geared toward at-home earwax removal.

Hydrogen Peroxide

A couple years ago, the use of hydrogen peroxide to clean out the ears went viral. And while it’s true that a diluted peroxide solution can be helpful in softening earwax, this practice does carry some risk, if done at home without the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Regularly dripping peroxide solutions into your ear can cause irritation and blistering. Making the remedy at home risks creating a solution that is too concentrated, which can result in burns.

Remember – the ear does a good job of taking care of earwax on its own terms. So, there is no need to risk complications for something that is not usually medically necessary.

Ear Candling

Another touted method of earwax removal involves laying on your side and inserting a long, hollow tube made of paraffin-soaked fabric into the ear and lighting the outer end on fire. The idea is that as the ‘candle’ burns, it creates a gentle suction which, along with the low heat, melts and draws earwax up out of the ear and into the tube.

There is not enough research to support this method, so my evidence-based mind is obviously skeptical. Not only is it not proven to be effective, but it also comes with the risk of getting burnt, making a mess, or starting a fire.

Otoscope For Sale

Finally, while it is possible to purchase otoscopes and curettes (devices used to look and clean inside the ear), I would strongly advise against doing so. These tools are meant to be used by medical professionals. One tiny mistake or slip of the hand could result in serious damage to the ear – it’s simply not worth it!

In sum, leave that earwax be unless it actually poses a significant problem. In that case, consult a doctor before trying to resolve it yourself. And remember – nothing smaller than an elbow should ever go inside the ear!

Want more insight on ear-related issues? Check out our blog about ear pain!