Ear wax is a natural coating produced by glands on the surface of your ear canal. It acts as a helpful sticky coating to protect your ear drum by trapping dust, dead skin, and other foreign particles from reaching deeper into your ear.
Sometimes, too much ear wax buildup can cause your ear canal to be blocked up, leading to earaches, feelings of fullness in the ear, or possible infections. Excess ear wax can also be caused by putting small things into your ears like a hearing aid, ear buds, or even your fingers. Putting these things into your ear can push the wax further down the ear canal.
Here are a few helpful tips on safe ear wax removal:
1. Do not try to remove the ear wax with a cotton swab (Q-Tips)!
Nothing should be placed inside the ear to remove dirt and debris. This is dangerous and could possibly cause hearing loss, a damaged ear canal, or a damaged eardrum. The eardrum is very delicate and can be easily ruptured, causing severe pain in the ear, and seen by fluid leakage from the ear.
2. Over-the-counter products that can break up ear wax
You can purchase some products specially made for breaking up ear wax. The water-based ear drops contain ingredients such as acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, or sodium bicarbonate. Oil-based ear drops lubricate and soften the ear wax. After leaving a few drops of these products in your ear for a few minutes, you can tilt your head the other way to let the fluid and ear wax drain out thoroughly.
3. A soaked cotton ball and a tilt of the head
You can try soaking a cotton ball with a few drops of plain water, simple saline solution, or hydrogen peroxide into the ear with your head tilted so the opening of your ear is pointing up. Hold that position for a minute to allow gravity to pull the fluid down through the ear wax. Then tilt your head the other way to let the fluid and ear wax thoroughly drain out of the ear canal. You can also use a bulb syringe with warm water to gently swish out the ear.
If using hydrogen peroxide, make sure to use no more than 3% concentration for the purposes of ear treatment. In a cup, mix your hydrogen peroxide with water in equal amounts. As the peroxide mixture moves through the wax, you can expect bubbles to form and cause a mild tingling sensation. Using this method too often could result in bacterial infection or cause dryness and itching in the ear.
4. In most cases, the ear canal does not need to be cleaned so thoroughly
During hair washing or showers, enough water enters your ear canal to loosen the ear wax that may have accumulated. A gentle rub with a little soap, water, and a washcloth may achieve sufficient cleaning.
5. If you have damaged your ears or puncture an eardrum, see a doctor!
If water gets into the middle ear, a serious infection is possible. You may recognize a punctured ear drum by a sudden development of pain, fluid leakage, ringing in your ears, or hearing loss. Symptoms of an ear infection also include those signs as well as fever, severe and constant ear pain, coughing, and dizziness.
Prepared by Alan Wong, PharmD Candidate 2022
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/got-an-ear-full-heres-some-advice-for-ear-wax-removal. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/47773-Swab-hearing-loss. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.
https://www.medicinenet.com/ear_wax/article.htm. Accessed 16 Nov 2021.