Why You Should Avoid Cleaning Your Ears with Cotton Swabs

Dr. Kevin H. Ivory

Dr. Kevin Ivory, Au.D., CCC-A received his Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then went on to earn his Doctor of Audiology degree from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the top 10 audiology residential programs in the country.
Dr. Kevin H. Ivory

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Put down your Q-tips and step away from the cotton swabs! If you’ve been cleaning your ears with cotton buds or Q-tips, stop immediately. While you might think it’s great to have clean ears, putting cotton swabs in your ears as part of your morning routine could be doing a lot of damage, say experts at the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

What is Ear Wax?

Before you start cleaning out your ears, it’s important to find out what ear wax is, and what role it plays in the health of your ears. While you might think that ear wax is slimy and gross, it’s actually protecting your ears. The sticky wax traps dirt, dust, and moisture that enters your ears, and stops it from reaching your eardrum or causing any damage.

Ear wax is actually self-cleaning, and when the wax encounters a lot of dust or dirt it gets dry and hard. This hard wax slowly works its way up your ear canal as your jaw moves through chewing and talking, until it falls out or gets washed away in the shower.

Why You Shouldn’t Clean Your Ears

When you clean your ears, you’re doing a lot more harm than good. All the dry, hard wax that’s trying to work its way out of your ears will get pushed back down the ear canal, and can become blocked against the ear drum. This is a condition called cerumen impaction, and you’ll feel like you’re not able to hear clearly, or that the sounds around you are very muffled. “Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears,” says Schwartz. “The problem is that this effort to eliminate earwax is only creating further issues because the earwax is just getting pushed down and impacted further into the ear canal.”

Not only does cleaning your ears with cotton swabs push ear wax back into your ear, you also risk damaging the ear drum or ear canal. Putting these objects in your ear to try to clean them could lead to permanent tinnitus or hearing loss.

When Do Ears Need a Cleaning?

There are times when your ears might need a cleaning. If your ears feel plugged, they may produce an excessive amount of earwax. Around 1 in 20 adults have an unnatural earwax buildup, and their ears don’t naturally get rid of ear wax. This also becomes more common as people age. If you feel like your ears are plugged, or suspect you have a buildup of ear wax, visit a doctor to have them checked. If your ears do need to be cleaned, the doctor will flush them out with water, loosening the earwax, and getting rid of all the excess wax without pushing any of it back against the ear drum.

If you’ve noticed any buildup of ear wax, or feel a ringing or buzzing in your ears, visit your family physician. Have you experienced any changes to your hearing? That’s another sure sign you need to have a professional check your ears. Your doctor should also examine your ears during your annual physical, and will be able to tell you if your ear wax looks healthy.

Scheduling a Hearing Test

Have you noticed any changes in your hearing? Call us today at La Canada Hearing to schedule a hearing test. We’ll perform a comprehensive hearing test, and discover your unique hearing profile. We’ll also take a look in your ears to check for any signs of ear wax build up, infection, or other damage. It’s recommended that everyone over the age of 60 get their hearing tested at least once per year so you can notice if there are any changes to your hearing abilities.

If you’ve been struggling to hear, whatever the reason, let La Canada Hearing help you find the solution to your hearing loss, and recommend the perfect devices to help you hear in every situation. You’ll never have to strain to hear, but can enjoy conversations with friends and loved ones, and get back to doing the things you love.