My husband and I have a long-standing debate about how often you should clean your ears. I absolutely hate it when my ears feel itchy, I get water in them, or they have excess wax, so I clean them every night. My husband, on the other hand, thinks you should absolutely never clean your ears, because it's unnecessary and maybe even harmful. So if you're wondering, like us, how often you should you clean your ears, you might be surprised to learn that my husband is 100 percent right... at least about ear cleaning, that is.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should actually never put anything inside your ear canal, not even a cotton-tipped swap (which is odd, because I swear everyone does!) If your ears are dirty on the outside, the same site notes that you can clean them with a wash cloth. However, as good (and satisfying) as it might feel to to clean out ear wax, it can hurt your ears and can even cause hearing loss. According to Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialists, cleaning your ears is also completely unnecessary, because ears are actually "self-cleaning."
If too much wax is causing symptoms like itchy ears or difficulty hearing, ENT Specialists recommends using a few drops of baby oil or store-bought ear drops, which can soften wax and help speed up the process of it migrating out of your ear. Not all over-the-counter ear products are safe, though. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually issued a safety warning about ear-candles, which claim to help remove ear wax, after reports of injuries.
According to ENT Specialists, cleaning your ears with a cotton-tipped swab is actually a really bad idea. It can push wax into your ear canal and cause a blockage, which can ironically make you feel as though your ears need cleaning. The AAP adds that cleaning your ears can even injure your ear drum, which can cause permanent hearing loss, pain, and infections.
As ENT Specialists explain, most of the time cleaning wax out of your ears is completely unnecessary. Your body produces ear wax for a reason — to protect your ear canals from moisture, which can cause infections. Over time, your ears are actually self-cleaning, and that wax will slowly move along your ear canal to the outside and get washed away or fall off.
According to the AAP, trying to clean wax out of the inside of your ear can actually push wax deeper inside, causing your canal to get blocked or wax to press against your ear drum. This can lead to pain, perforate your eardrum, or even permanently damage your hearing. In fact, the same site reports that an astounding 34 kids visit hospital emergency rooms each day due to ear-cleaning injuries.
If you wonder if any ear-cleaning products are safe to use, the AAP says most are unnecessary and you should simply let your ears do their thing. If you have symptoms or excess wax, according to ENT Specialists, over-the-counter ear drops, which claim to soften ear wax, are generally safe. Otherwise, mineral oil or baby oil can also be used. The same site notes that hydrogen peroxide can feel good, and effectively remove wax, but leaves excess moisture in your ears that can be a breeding ground for infection. So, if you use a product with peroxide, you should follow-up with a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol to dry things out.
You may have heard about ear-candling — or using a special candle, which is reputed to draw wax out of your ears. The American Academy of Audiology published a review of research related to ear-candling that found that ear-candling — both at home or at a clinic or spa — is dangerous and doesn't work. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns consumers against falling for the claims of ear-candling products.
As always, if your ears are bothering you or your child complains about an earache or difficulty hearing, you should call your doctor before trying to clean them yourself. The AAP warns that most of the time, you are better off leaving them alone. Cleaning your ears can cause more harm than good, and might actually be the problem behind your ear symptoms... not a solution.