Why Do We Have It? Why Do We Need It? How Do I Clean My Ears?
By Shelby Garrison, Au.D.
Cerumen is commonly known as earwax. Everyone has it; some more than others. But why do we have it? Why do we need it? How are we supposed to keep our ears clean?
Earwax is produced by glands in the ear that secrete waxy oils. Earwax protects the ear canal and eardrum by trapping and preventing debris like dust, bacteria, germs, and even bugs from entering the ear. The oils also protect the delicate skin in the ear canal from irritants or drying out.
As our ears produce wax, the skin of the ear canal slowly grows and helps to migrate the wax out of the ear. In some individuals, the glands produce an overabundance of wax that can cause the wax to build up and block the ear, causing an impaction.
Most people try to use Q-tips or cotton swabs to remove the wax from their ears. However, when you try to clean the ears with a cotton swab, you may instead push wax deeper and block the ear canal or remove the protective oils from the skin and cause the skin to become dry and itchy. For this reason, cotton swabs are not recommended for ear cleaning.
In some cases, earwax blockages can be treated at home. The best method is to use drops (i.e., OTC wax softening drops, mineral oil, diluted hydrogen peroxide) to soften the wax and a bulb syringe with body-temperature water to gently flush the ear. You may also clean the outer ear and canal by using a tissue wrapped around your finger.
It is important to ask your healthcare provider before doing it on your own. Avoid cleaning your ears at home if you have a perforation or hole in the eardrum or have had recent ear surgery. If you cannot remove the wax plug or have discomfort, consult your local healthcare provider.
Now is a great time to have your hearing checked! Audiology Consultants’ offices are located at 2215 East 52nd St., #2, Davenport, IA: 563-355-7712; 600 Valley View Dr., Moline, IL: 309-517-3889; Unity Point Clinic, 3426 North Port Dr., #500, Muscatine, IL: 563-264-9406; or Hammond Henry Hospital, 600 College Ave., Geneseo, IL: 309-944-9181.