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Cleaning your ears is a fundamental part of maintaining healthy hygiene, yet surprisingly few people know how to do it properly. In this article, we’re going to share the do’s and don’ts of cleaning your ears. Beware: the truth may not be what you want to hear, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly and significantly, you can improve ear comfort by following proper hygiene practices.

Why Cotton Swabs are the Worst Way to Clean Ears

Firstly, put down the cotton swab! Ear specialists agree that cotton swabs (often referred to generically as Q-tips) are the worst way to clean your ears. Why? Because they tend to push earwax further into the canal, often leading to a buildup of impacted earwax that can cause stopped up sensation, ringing, and sometimes even infection. Besides that, there’s the threat of irritating your ear canal, puncturing your eardrum, or even damaging the delicate bones inside your ears, something that happens surprisingly often. We can’t tell you how often patients come to the Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center seeking treatment for ear pain, only to discover that the culprit is cotton swabs!

Cotton swabs are lovely little tools useful for many things: Applying makeup, swabbing for medical or scientific samples, not to mention countless crafts activities. Ear cleaning is not one of them. The Q-tip, the first mass-produced cotton swab, was invented by Polish American Leo Gertzenzang in 1923. They were originally called “Baby Gays” and were intended for infant care. The company began including warnings against use for ear cleaning as early as the 1970s.

Alternatives to Cotton Swabs

So what do you use instead? Well, most people shouldn’t need more than a finger and a washcloth to clean their ears. Cerumen, or ear wax, exists for a reason; it traps foreign particles such as bacteria or fungi and protects the thin and fragile skin lining your ear canal. Taking it out opens the door to a menagerie of health complications. In most people, excess wax is gradually worked out of the ear canal through jaw motion. That tiny bit that occasionally crusts around the entrance to your ear canal is all you need to worry about cleaning. Simply swab it with a damp washcloth while you’re in the shower.

[Related: Why Do I Have a Earache?]

At least that’s true for most people. In some individuals, the glands in their ears secrete either too much wax or wax that is dry and hard. This can lead to a blockage. Symptoms for of an earwax blockage include fullness, earache, ringing, and even dizziness and drowsiness.

If a blockage occurs, the safest thing to do is visit an ear specialist. Depending on the severity of the case, they may recommend over-the-counter treatments that soften the cerumen, or they may extract the wax in-office. There are many bizarre home remedies out there, such as candling (don’t ask), but they all come with risks that far outweigh the results, which are usually nil.

How Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center Treats Itchy Ears

When patients come to the Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center for ear pain, the first thing we do is scope them. The scoping process involves inserting a tiny camera in the ear canal to explore inside. Half the time, irritated skin reveals that cotton swabs are the culprit. Another common cause is a blockage from cerumen. If that’s the case, we have a variety of techniques from irrigations to using a delicate suction to vacuum out the wax using a microscope. The results are often instantaneous. Patients feel better, and they hear better. They are often shocked by the difference and can’t believe they had gone so long, enduring the discomfort and hearing loss associated with cerumen buildup.

If you’re suffering from fullness of the ear, ringing, or earache, see a board-certified Otolaryngologist. You won’t regret it. Not only will you feel better, you’ll also reduce the risk of infection, which can lead to other health problems.

And if you don’t suffer from ear discomfort… just PUT DOWN the cotton swab!

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