Cotton swabs and candling are just a couple of the ways people commonly clean their ears. But is it doing any good?
Probably not. And in some cases, certainly not.
You really don’t need to clean the inside of the ears. In fact, the stuff that most people are trying to get rid of, earwax, is actually your ear’s built-in self-cleaning device.
Earwax, also called cerumen, is made up of an oily fluid produced by the glands in the outer part of the ear canal. It forms a thin film over the surface of the skin lining the canal, where it mixes with discarded skin, bits of hair, and other debris.
This layer then helps to protect the inner ear canal from water, infection, or injury. Earwax also traps particles of dust and helps eliminate bacteria that could damage the ear canal or eardrum, a particularly delicate membrane.
Earwax typically moves from inside the canal to the outer ear, where it is washed out or dries up and falls out. Most of the time, it requires no effort from you.
Still, so many people use a cotton swab to remove it. This can actually be harmful, potentially pushing wax further into the ear canal where it can accumulate and harden, particularly if you have a narrow or hairy ear canal. Other people may make a lot of earwax, leading to a buildup.
Hardened earwax can cause discomfort, hearing loss, or a ringing in the ears (tinnitus). It can also make hearing aids malfunction. Home remedies may help clean it out, but if you have any pain, it is a good idea to see a doctor; the pain may signify an infection or injury.
You can try a home-flushing kit sold at most pharmacies if you’re feeling discomfort. You can also try warmed mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide.
But really, most ear cleaning will involve little more than a washcloth.
Let your earwax do its job.