How to Clean Your Ears

Believe it or not, your ears are self-cleaning but how does the ear “self-clean”? Wax is made in the outer half of the ear canal only, not deep inside close to the eardrum. Wax naturally self-drains to eliminate dust, dirt, and debris out of the ear canal. Any wax we find deep in the ear is because it was pushed there, usually by a cotton swab in attempts to “clean” the ear. Wax in the ear canal acts like a filter to keep out debris, prevent infection, and helps lubricate the ear so that it’s not dry and itchy. The only part of the ear that should be cleaned is the wax that has made its way out of the ear canal. I recommend using a washcloth or cotton swab to clean the folds of the external ear. Do not put the cotton swab into the ear canal. Wax in the ear is not considered poor hygiene and should not be cleaned out unless it is deeply impacted. Deeply impacted wax can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), a full feeling in the ears, and can lead to infection if water or bacteria gets behind the blockage. Attempts to remove a blockage from the ear canal with a cotton swab, bobby pin, or fingernail can lead to rupturing of the ear drum, or further damage. If you do not have a perforated ear drum, infection, sores, or tubes in your ears you can try home remedies to remove the block yourself. The best way to remove a blocked ear canal is to first soften the ear wax by inserting a few drops of oil, such as mineral or olive oil, in the canal for 2-3 days. Once you have softened the wax you can use hydrogen peroxide to dissolve the wax. Lie on your side and fill up the ear canal with the solution and let it sit for about 5-10 min. You may feel a warm tingling sensation while the peroxide bubbles and eats away at the blockage. It should not hurt or sting. Afterwards, you may put your ear to the shower, use a squeeze bottle or syringe to gently irrigate the ear. The ear does self-clean, so sometimes you can even just use oil and hydrogen peroxide back and forth to eventually remove the blockage without irrigation. Alternatively, you can see your hearing health care professional, family doctor, or walk-in clinic to remove the wax. Health Canada does not recommend ear candling. I have patients tell me they just got their ears candled and describe how much wax came out, only for me to find a blocked ear canal. Wax removal is covered by OHIP if you see your family doctor or walk-in clinic, however they are likely only to syringe your ears. There is usually a charge when seeing a hearing specialist to have wax removed. Best to call and ask before booking.


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