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When to Clean Your Ears and How Should You Do It?

Blonde girl's ear.
Travis Isaacs, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is Earwax?

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It plays several important roles in ear health:

  1. Protection: Earwax acts as a protective barrier⁽¹⁾, trapping water, dust, dirt, and other particles that could potentially damage the eardrum or cause infections.

  2. Moisturization: Earwax helps moisturize⁽¹⁾ the skin of the ear canal, preventing it from becoming dry and itchy.

  3. Cleaning: Earwax has a self-cleaning mechanism. ⁽¹⁾ As new earwax is produced, older wax is pushed from the ear canal to the outer ear, carrying away debris and dead skin cells.

  4. Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties: Earwax contains chemicals⁽²⁾ that inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, helping to prevent infections.

Why is Ear Cleaning Important?

In most cases, the ear is a self-cleaning system⁽¹⁾. Tiny hairs lining the ear canal and the movement of our jaw during chewing naturally work together to propel earwax outward. This natural process effectively removes excess earwax without intervention.

However, there are times when ear cleaning may be necessary:

Excessive Earwax

If you experience symptoms such as earache, ear fullness, hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or itching, it may indicate a buildup of earwax also known as cerumen impaction.

Certain signs might suggest a need for earwax removal:

  • Muffled Hearing: A feeling of fullness or muffled hearing can be a symptom of earwax buildup.

  • Earache: Pain or discomfort in the ear can be caused by excessive earwax.

  • Tinnitus: Ringing in the ear (tinnitus) can be another indicator of earwax impaction.

  • Feeling of Blockage: A persistent sensation of a blocked ear canal.

Swimmer's Ear

Otitis externa, commonly known as "swimmer's ear," is an inflammatory condition that affects the outer ear canal, which is the portion of the ear between the visible part of the ear (pinna) and the eardrum. It is often caused by water that remains in the ear after swimming, creating a moist environment ideal for bacterial growth.

Some common indicators of swimmer's ear include:

  • Ear Pain: Swimmer's ear often causes intense pain, especially when touching or pulling on the outer ear.

  • Itching: The ear canal may itch, leading to a desire to scratch the ear.

  • Redness and Swelling: The skin of the outer ear or ear canal may appear red, swollen, or irritated.

  • Discharge: There may be a clear, pus-like, or yellowish discharge from the ear.

  • Fullness in the Ear: Swimmer's ear can cause a sensation of fullness or blockage in the ear.

  • Decreased Hearing: Due to swelling and fluid buildup, hearing loss or a feeling of muffled hearing may occur.

  • Tender Lymph Nodes: The lymph nodes around the ear or in the neck may become tender or swollen.

Hearing Aid Users

People who wear hearing aids may need to clean their ears more frequently to prevent wax buildup around the hearing aid.

How to Clean Your Ears Safely

The safest way to remove wax buildup from your ears is to visit a doctor. At your appointment, your doctor can use special instruments, like a cerumen spoon, forceps, or suction device, to clear the blockage.

  1. Ear Drops: Several drops can be used to clean ears including over-the-counter drops, hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or if advised by a medical professional, antibiotic or steroid ear drops. It's important to use ear drops as directed and to avoid using them if you have a perforated eardrum or if you are unsure about the cause of your ear symptoms.

  2. Ear Irrigation: If you have excessive earwax buildup, consider ear irrigation. This procedure should be done by a healthcare professional to avoid injury to the ear canal.

  3. Warm Washcloth: This is the simplest and safest method. Use a damp washcloth with warm water to gently cleanse the outer ear, removing any visible earwax.

What to Absolutely Avoid

  • Cotton swabs: These can actually push earwax deeper into the ear canal, causing more problems than they solve.

  • Ear candles: Ear candles are not recommended, potentially causing burns and offering no benefit for earwax removal.

  • Foreign objects: Never insert sharp or pointed objects into the ear canal, risking damage to the delicate eardrum and surrounding structures.

  • Excessive cleaning: Doing so can lead to irritation or infection of the ear canal.

Tips for Healthy Ears

  • Protect Your Ears: Wear earplugs or earmuffs in noisy environments to prevent hearing damage.

  • Get Regular Check-ups: Regular visits to an audiologist or otolaryngologist can help monitor your ears' health and address any issues early.

Proper ear cleaning is an essential part of maintaining good hearing health. By following these tips and seeking professional help when needed, you can keep your ears clean and healthy, promoting better speech and hearing for years to come.


Getting your ears cleaned in Hollywood, FL

Experience professional ear irrigation services in Hollywood, FL, designed to safely and effectively remove excess earwax and debris. Our experienced team utilizes gentle techniques to ensure your comfort and ear health. Schedule your appointment today!

Address: 3911 Hollywood Blvd#201, Hollywood, FL 33021, United States

Phone: 754-888-1368


[1] Fareeda Hussain, M. D. (2022, June 13). Keeping your ears clean from Earwax. Mayo Clinic Health System.

[2] Swain, Santosh Kumar; Sahu, Mahesh Chandra1; Debta, Priyanka2; Baisakh, Manash Ranjan3. Antimicrobial Properties of Human Cerumen. Apollo Medicine 15(4):p 197-200, Oct–Dec 2018. | DOI: 10.4103/am.am_69_18


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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

ENT Family Blog

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