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February 28, 2018

By Dr. Annelyse Ballin, Otolaryngologist Specialist (E.N.T.), HealthBay Al Wasl

With a decade working as an E.N.T., some questions are very frequent in the office. These are the common questions regarding ear cleaning and earwax. We hope they are useful to you and your family.

Should I clean my (or my child’s) ears at home? – No.

Why not?

There is no need to clean the inside of the ears (the ear canal – please see figure) at home. The ear canal has a self-cleaning mechanism and usually does not need to be cleaned. Equally important, earwax is a naturally occurring product that protects our ears from injuries and infections. 

How are ears cleaned? 

The ear canal has a self-cleaning mechanism, one of which is the presence of ear hair in the most outside part of the ear canal. The ear hair serves to pull out the wax.

Do you recommend cleaning the ears with cotton-tipped swabs? – No.

Why not?

For 2 reasons:

One is that inserting cotton-tipped swabs (or other objects, such as pen covers and tips) into the ears can cause injuries, including skin lacerations and eardrum perforation. The second reason is that the cotton-tipped swaps can push the wax deeper into the ear canal, until the part without ear hair, causing earwax impaction.

What is earwax impaction?

Earwax impaction is when the accumulation of earwax causes symptoms or prevents your doctor from seeing the eardrum. When your doctor cannot properly see your eardrum, diagnosis and treatments are compromised. The medical term for earwax is cerumen.

What are the symptoms of cerumen impaction?

Ear pain, ear itching, discharge from the ear, tinnitus, ear fullness, blocked ears, cough, or hearing loss.

How is earwax impaction treated?

It can be observed or removed from the ears.

How is the impacted earwax removed?

There are 4 treatment options to remove impacted earwax:

  • Ear drops – ear drops, called cerumenolytics, can soften earwax and help it to drain out. Cerumenolytics drops are not usually safe for people with an ear infection or damage to the eardrum.
  • Ear washing – involves flushing the wax out by a jet of warm water
  • Manual removal – special tools, such as ear curettes, forceps, hooks, and microsuction, are used to pull the wax out.
  • Combination of the above options.

Which is the best way to remove the earwax?

Each case should be evaluated individually by an E.N.T. doctor. It depends on the patient’s age and wax characteristics. The E.N.T. should have all the 4 options available and be able to provide the best option(s) to each patient.

For further information or to book your appointment with Dr. Ballin, call 800 HBPC (4272). 

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