Having trouble hearing? Too much earwax may be the culprit. Before reaching for a swab or other cotton tools to remove the wax, consider that these foreign objects can actually be harmful to your ear.
Wax in your ear does act as a protective function for the ear. However, it can interfere with hearing. If you wear hearing aids too much, wax can plug up the aid and prevent it from properly functioning.
Below are wrong and right ways to get rid of unwanted earwax.
Reasons to avoid swabbing
Most people use Q-tip swabs to clean out their ears, but they are not recommended.
“I do have patients come in frequently who tell me they use these swabs,” said Susan Eckwright, an otolaryngology nurse practitioner. “But they can cause a lot of problems.”
Swabs may push the wax further into the ear, traumatizing the ear canal or eardrum. They also can cause bleeding, pain, infection, a hole in the eardrum (perforation) and hearing loss.
“I’ve had patients clean out their ears with Q-tips and the cotton end gets stuck in their ear,” Eckwright said. “So they’ve had to come in to have the cotton removed.”
Other frequently used objects, such as bobby pins and car keys, also are not safe to use. Ear candling is definitely not recommended.
Safer ways to remove earwax at home
If you do not have a hole in the eardrum, use baby oil, mineral oil or olive oil to help soften the wax so it drains out on its own.
If you have problems with swimmer’s ear infections, you can use equal amounts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol to clean out the wax, while preventing and treating infections.
Some over-the-counter products work to soften the wax, like Debrox®.
Ear vacuums advertised on TV are not very powerful.
If you have a perforated eardrum, it’s safest to use antibiotic ear drops to soften the wax.
Ways your doctor may treat excess earwax
Providers in primary care, urgent care and emergency departments frequently flush the ears with water. If that is not successful, otolaryngology (ear-nose-throat) providers have a variety of tools to use, depending on the consistency of the wax. If it is soft, they may use suction. If the wax is harder, they may use a curette or forceps, or soften the wax with peroxide.
Over-the-counter remedies or coming in to see your provider are the best approaches for cleaning earwax.