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Earwax: Three Reasons To Put Down The Cotton Swab

Although gross, something is satisfying about cleaning your ears of wax. It is so fascinating for some that its YouTube channels, such as The Wax Whisperer and Audiology Associates, garner millions of viewers as physicians extract wax from patients’ ears. Warning: If you’re squeamish, you may want to skip those channels and stick to our tips below.

Before you go down an earhole of YouTube videos, here’s the truth about earwax: It’s good for your health. Here are three reasons to put down that cotton swab and leave your earwax alone.

1. It’s protective.

Just like nose hairs and eyelashes, earwax is a protective device as well.

“Cerumen, or earwax, is naturally produced by special glands in the outer ear canal skin,” said Bruce Stewart, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “Earwax blocks foreign matters like dust or bugs from entering the ear canal. It also helps prevent the growth of bacteria or fungus on the ear canal skin.”

2. It’s moisturizing

Earwax helps lubricate our ear canals. Without it, you may want to begin scratching your ears, because they could become dry and itchy.

3. Your ears are self-cleaning

Put down the cotton swab and step away from the mirror. Your ear doesn’t need a housekeeper because typically your ears are self-cleaning. When you move your jaw, the wax moves along the ear canal to the opening where it can either dry up, flake off or fall out. It’s only necessary to clean when there is an excess.

Where we get in trouble is when we fuss with it, using cotton swabs, our fingers and even paperclips to try and scrape it out ourselves. Doing so can cause blockages and health problems. In fact, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, nearly 12 million Americans a year seek medical care for problems with cerumen. Impaction is one of the common causes of hearing loss.

How to self-treat excessive earwax

“If you have no history of perforated eardrum and no pain or drainage from the ear, you can try over-the-counter earwax drops that help soften earwax, and then gently irrigate with lukewarm water,” Dr. Stewart said. “If this hurts or you become dizzy, you should stop and see a doctor.”

Healthcare providers can look inside your ear and use instruments specifically designed to remove earwax.

Are ear candles safe to use?

There is no clinical evidence that ear candling removes impacted cerumen. It can cause serious damage to the ear canal and eardrum and serious burns to the face.

When to seek medical attention

While earwax has many benefits, if it does build up it can cause some uncomfortable symptoms and hearing loss. It may also trap water in the ear canal and promote bacterial growth. This can lead to ear pain, swelling, and drainage from the ear canal known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear.

If your ears feel plugged or painful despite using the ear drops, it's time to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider and ear, nose, and throat specialist. They can safely clean ears without water and treat any underlying ear disease or infections.

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