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Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

Good news! You don’t have to clean your ears every morning anymore! That’s the word from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), your hearing care professional and even the warning on practically every box of swabs on the market. Turns out your grandmother was right about your ears and elbows all along! Stop swabbing out your ears and let your ear wax do its thing for these 5 reasons:

1. Your Ears Can Keep Themselves Clean

Cerumen is the scientific word for that waxy, icky looking substance we all know as ear wax. And instead of being a nuisance, it actually grabs stray dirt, dust and debris, trapping it before it can go down too far into your ear canal. But the self-cleaning process doesn’t stop there. All day long, while you’re talking, chewing, yawning, etc., those mechanical jaw actions help usher the soiled ear wax to the outside of the ear canal where you can wipe it away with a damp cloth. There’s no reason at all to stick anything like a swab, key, finger, paintbrush, chopstick, iPhone cord or any other foreign object into your ear for ear wax removal. When you do that, it actually sets back your ears own self-cleaning process by shoving old ear wax deeper into the ear canal, impacting it and damaging your hearing.

2. Ear Wax is Healthy for Your Ears

Although nobody ever wants to run across an ear wax flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor jellybean, cerumen (medical-speak for ear wax) has so many health properties that clean, protect and condition your ears. Aside from its dirt-trapping properties, it protects your ears against viruses, fungal infections, bacteria, and even bugs! It also moisturizes and conditions the skin inside of the ear canal, keeping it healthy and supple.

In fact, these glands whip up a special recipe of cholesterol, fatty acids, enzymes, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, and other chemicals especially for your ears—the end result is ear-protecting ear wax. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth.

3. Hearing Loss from Ear Wax Removal

You might already have some level of hearing loss from ear cleaning without even realizing it. If you’ve cleaned your ears with pointy objects for years, it’s likely you do have some impacted ear wax down at the far end of the ear canal, possibly jammed up against your ear drum. The best thing to do is make an appointment with your hearing care professional to have them evaluate your hearing and ear health and have any impacted ear wax removed professionally.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Now, if you need to wear hearing aids, you do need to pay attention to ear wax buildup and proper ear cleaning because sometimes that can impact ear wax into the ear canal. But still—no swabs! That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Cleaning Injuries Abound

Dear parents: ear cleaning and teeth brushing are not the same! Teeth don’t clean themselves, but ears really do! Every day, somewhere in America, 34 kids are rushed to the doctor with ear cleaning injuries. The sad thing is how it can harm kids’ hearing during important developmental years. So pass that sage advice from your grandma on to your children, because they often injure their own ears by sticking swabs into them. The most common of these injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small lacerations and cuts inside of the ear canal.

And then there’s the “all natural” practice of “ear candling” that you should absolutely avoid. Billed as a “natural ear wax removal” technique, you basically stick a hollow, cone-shaped candle into your ear canals and light it. Thousands of people go to the doctor with ear candling injuries every year too. Here’s what you need to know about ear candling:

  • It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.

5. Put the Swabs Down Now

Just take a shower, wash your hair, rinse out your ears in the process and dab with a towel afterward. That’s really all you need for healthy, safe ear cleaning as it removes the ear wax your ear has already pushed out of the canal. If you really struggle with this advisory on ear wax, or worry that there may be some ear wax impaction, hearing loss or injury to your ear, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional right away.

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