March 29, 2024

Fun Fact: Q-Tip Packaging Says “Not for Use in Ears.” So How Do I Keep My Ears Clean?

As audiologists, we often get asked “How do I clean my ears?” by patients if I can’t use Q-tips. Many people do not know that your ear typically does a good job cleans itself! Earwax, or cerumen, is a self-cleaning agent meant to protect and lubricate your ear canal. Glands in your ear canal produce this substance to trap dirt and dust particles so they do not make their way to your eardrum. The earwax naturally migrates out of your ear with jaw movements, such as chewing or talking.  Different factors can impact how much earwax a person produces (e.g. genetics, medications).

When a cerumen buildup occurs, it is typically due to the patient using Q-tips or other objects to clean their ears. Using something in the canal actually disrupts the natural shedding cycle of earwax and pushes the wax further into the canal where it cannot migrate out naturally! Symptoms of a cerumen impaction include decreased hearing, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), itchiness, or a plugged feeling in the ears.

Audiology Approved Wax Management:

  • A few drops of mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide with water 
  • Commercial wax softeners available for purchase (e.g. Debrox)
  • Allowing water to flush the ears while in the shower

The following methods are UNSAFE and should not be attempted when concerns for wax build up occur:

  • Q-tips, or other foreign objects, to any degree in the ear canal 
  • Ear candles 
  • Ear wax removal systems with camera to phone for visualization

When in doubt, licensed medical providers have the ability to manually remove earwax. Different methods of extraction include suction, water irrigation, or curette removal. The method used varies depending on the condition of their ear and the amount of wax. Consult a physician if you believe that you have a cerumen impaction.


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