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Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

What do the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), your grandmother and your box of swabs have in common? They’ve all warned the world not to use swabs to clean out your ears! Your grandmother was right all along: never stick anything smaller than your elbow into your ear. (Seriously – try to stick your elbow in there…)

In addition to your grandmother, the swab box and the AAO-HNS, your hearing care professional wants to weigh in with these 5 reasons you can cross ear wax removal off of your daily hygiene regimen list:

1. Your Ears are basically Self-Cleaning

In fact, ear wax, or “cerumen”, is what your ears make to clean themselves—and it works very well on its own. It traps dust and debris before it works its way deeper into the ear canal where it might get trapped. As you talk, yawn and chew throughout the day, the very mechanical process of you using your jaw actually propels soiled ear wax out of the ear canal, effectively removing the dirt. Using a swab, fork, key, finger, chopstick, pencil or any other foreign implement for ear wax removal actually reverses your ears’ self-cleaning process, pushing used ear wax deeper into the canal where it can get impacted and lead to injury and hearing loss.

2. Ear Wax is Really Healthy for Your Ears

Cerumen may look gross, but it’s nectar to your ears—it has several health benefits aside from moving the dirt out of your ears. It lubricates the ear canal and also protects your ears against fungal infections, viruses, bacteria, and even deters insects!

Cerumen is an interesting mixture of fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, enzymes and other chemicals that are produced by special glands inside your ears. Your ears pump out this special protective solution to keep your ears clean and infection free. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—a property that inhibits fungal and bacterial growth.

3. Aggressive Ear Cleaning Damages Hearing

If you’re an ear cleaner, and you’ve used swabs over the years, it’s probable that you have jammed old ear wax further into your ear canal, which means you might have sustained some hearing loss already. If you’ve been doing the swab ear wax removal routine for years, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional to have them check whether you have impacted ear wax that might be causing some amount of hearing loss.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Keep in mind that wearing hearing aids may also impact ear wax. That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Ear Wax Removal Techniques Can Injure Ears

Nearly 12,500 American children end up in doctor’s offices annually due to ear cleaning mishaps. Sometimes the well-meaning parents do it, laboring under the false impression that ear cleaning is as necessary as teeth brushing for proper hygiene. But often the kids do it themselves. The most common of these injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small cuts and lacerations inside the ear canal.

In addition to swab and other small-implement-in-the-ear accidents, Thousands of people go to the doctor with “ear candling” injuries every year too. Seen as a “natural ear wax removal” technique, ear candling enthusiasts stick a hollow, cone-shaped candle into their ear canals and light it. Here’s what you need to know about ear candling:

  • It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.

Just say no to ear candling!

5. If You Can’t Stop Cleaning Your Ears…

All you really need to do is gently dab your ears dry with a towel after your daily shower and hair washing routine. Normally, this is entirely sufficient for healthy ear cleaning. But if you have any concerns about your ear health, excess ear wax, impaction, ear injury or hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional today for appropriate care – and be a little more thankful for that hard-working cerumen!

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