How do I clean my ears?
The short answer is you don’t need to. Majority of people that come to me with impacted wax issues do so because they attempt to clean their ears by means of cotton buds. Unfortunately this disrupts the natural series of events in your ear which continually aims to rid you ear of wax. Not using cotton buds also stops me sounding like a robot as I tell client after client not to put cotton buds in their ears!
So what is this ’natural series of events which clean my ears’?
Your ear is one of the truly marvellous structures in the body. Not only does it allow you to have incredibly distinct hearing, it also is a cleaning machine. The bottom line is the wax you produce is like the washing up liquid that you use on your dishes. It’s clean, full of antibacterial and antifungal properties and protects your very delicate skin from harm. Little glands under the skin in your ear canal are responsible for secreting wax. It then travels along your ear canal towards the entrance of your ear, bringing with it loose skin cells, dirt and pathogens. Then as you shower, the water rinses it from the entrance. Like everything, as you get older bodily functions don’t work as well and as a result some things require a little assistance along the way.
What is the best way to clean my ears?
There are a number of products on the market suitable to help ease the wax naturally to the entrance of your ear canal. Generally the softer your ear wax is, the more easily your ears can do its cleaning job. All of the products that you can purchase at the chemist (waxsol, cerumol etc.) generally aim at softening wax, not dissolving it – a common misconception. There are also some home remedies which are just as effective and significantly cheaper. These are plain boring olive oil or a mixture of bicarb soda and water. So, whilst chemist option soften wax, you’ll pay a fair bit more for it. They are also a combination of chemicals, so you can’t be entirely sure if what you are putting in your ears are safe. On the contrary, I know of no reports of discomfort or adverse reactions to using olive oil.
Why not use cotton buds?
Ever been told not to put something bigger that your elbow in your ear? Well below is why. Cotton buds, no matter how delicate you are, or how good your ‘scooping’ technique is, does not effectively or safely remove wax. In reality it pushes wax down to the base of your ear canal where it will remain until it is often physical removed by a GP, Audiologist or ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist). Pushing the wax down also caused the wax to become compacted (think the consistency of clay, when it may normally be the consistency of honey). If you continue to push it down your ears it will build up until you have a big plug. There is also a chance that when it is almost fully occluded, water will slip behind your wax plug and you have now created a lovely environment for a fungal infection. By using cotton buds, you also remove the waxy lining from the outer part of your ear canal which serves to protect your ear with its antibacterial and antifungal properties. So now, not only have you not cleaned your ears, you have increased the chance that you will require courses of antifungal or antibiotic drops to relieve the problem you have created. Unfortunately, this is all too common in our clinic.
What about ear candling?
Whilst the idea and ‘science’ around ear candling seems legitimate at first, there is actually many significant scientific flaws which means it is an unsafe and ineffective method for wax removal. There have been reported incidences of burns, perforated ear drums and candle wax occluding the ear canal. The idea of ear candling is that the heat from the candle produces enough negative pressure to vacuum the wax out of the ear canal. Unfortunately research has shown that ear candling does not create a great enough pressure to remove wax and if it did it would also rupture your ear drum in the process. The residue that you see on the remaining candle after you have used it is nothing more that the ash and burnt candle that you have just used (Seely et al). So I hope that this has also discouraged you from this seemingly simple home remedy!
I know I have a big plug of wax in my ears, what should I do now?
Book in to see us for wax removal. We are the first port of call for anything ear related. If we have concerns about the health of your ears, we may also then request that you see your GP for their opinion and medical management. We deal with wax removal on a daily basis and therefor are highly skilled and knowledgeable about the safest and least painful way to remove wax. Your GP can also arrange wax removal, however this procedure is then often left for the clinic nurses to manage. Their scope of practice is broad, and wax removal is only a small part of their job.
What can I expect if I came to Brad Hutchinson Hearing for Wax removal?
We will first ask you to complete a questionnaire to determine if there might be anything more serious than a wax problem. The audiologist will then use a camera to put your ears on a big screen. You will see for yourself if there is wax present or not. Depending on the type of wax (hard, soft) or the depth of the wax we often choose between using a small curette (like a pick) to safely remove the wax, or via a suction machine.
Seely DR, Quigley SM , Langman AW. (1996) Ear candles: Efficacy and safety. Laryngoscope 106:1226-1229