A Quick Guide for Spring-Cleaning Your Ears

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As we say goodbye to the harsh winter and welcome the spring season, we feel an urge to tuck away those bulky winter clothes, shake out the rugs, and make our cabinets clutter free. In the spirit that we get back to our long pending to-do list and spring-clean every single corner of the house, we shouldn’t forget to include the easily forgotten nooks of our own body: ear canals.

There definitely are people who take care of these protective pathways of our head but then, there are those of us who completely overlook the need for a periodic cleaning of these tiny canals. And, although the American Academy of Otolaryngology stresses on a “let-it-be” attitude when it comes to removing this valuable part of our ear’s protective mechanism, too much can never be too good.

In fact, excessive earwax buildup that is left unattended for too long is known to cause even permanent damage to our eardrums besides pain, discomfort, and transient loss of hearing. Currently, several methods are being promoted for an at-home self-cleaning. Like most approaches, every method has its own unique mechanism and features. Enumerated below are some of the popular self-cleaning choices along with some helpful facts and reviews that will enable you to choose the best method for your cleaning regimen. Read on.

Cotton Swabs

Almost all of you are aware of this option. Unfortunately, despite being the most popular choice, it is the least effective one! So much so, that detailed analysis has found cotton swabs to push more wax into the canal rather than pulling it out. This is attributed to the large head of the cotton swab smooshing the earwax, which is otherwise present only in the outer part of the ear canal, deeper (near the eardrum), increasing the chances for transient hearing loss due to the accumulated wax.

Hydrogen Peroxide

It is another method of choice for at-home ear cleaning. Hydrogen peroxide, when introduced into the ear canal, is known to soften any hard or resistant earwax. The loosened mass of earwax is then discarded with the help of cotton balls (not swabs) or simply left to drain out on its own. It is, however, important to note that repeated use of this compound can cause redness, irritation, and itchiness in the ear skin. Copious amounts of wax can be produced in response to these stimuli which can lead to further problems. Thus, it is advisable to use this method once a week. At best, twice.

Irrigation

Our auditory apparatus has a self-cleansing mechanism for removing the excess earwax buildup and when we are in health, it is unlikely for us to have worrying levels of earwax. However, when we do require extra care, a simple, home-made ear flush can aid in the safe and efficient cleaning of the ears naturally. A common formula is to make a solution with equal portions of rubbing alcohol, warm water, and white vinegar. A few drops of this mixture is put in the ears using a dropper and allowed to sit there for some time. After this, turn your head to let the softened wax pass out of the canals.

Mineral Oils

Mineral oils are a great option for removing the hardened wax buildup. This is because most of the contents of cerumen, better known as earwax, are fat-soluble (hence the use of “wax” in its name.)  Any pure oil, like sunflower oil, olive oil or sesame oil, can be used for this purpose. Its method of application is similar to that of irrigation, wherein the ear flush is replaced with the oil of your liking. Additionally, the use of slightly warm oil aids in dissolving the excess wax faster. It is also important to note that only pure liquid oils should be used. Perfumed oils or oils with added chemicals (e.g baby oil) should be avoided at all costs.

Ear Candling

In spite of the claims and reassurance provided by the adherents and manufacturers of ear candles, the FDA has laid out a strong warning regarding the safety of this method. Simply put, this method is potentially precarious if not used exactly as instructed by the manufacturer. Ear candling involves the use of ‘candles’ that consist of a hollow wax trumpet with one inserted in your ear while the farther end burns slowly. The wax expands and sucks out any debris or excess earwax along with it when the trumpet is withdrawn. This complex process has often caused hot ash to fall inside the hollow trumpet and cause burns in the inner parts of the canal, sometimes damaging the eardrum irreversibly. With so many other relatively safer options available for ear cleaning, it is best to stay away from such hazardous ones!