Concerned About Earwax? New Guidelines Say Don’t Over-Clean Your Ears

Putting objects in your ears can result in ear infections and worse

Concerned About Earwax? New Guidelines Say Don't Over-Clean Your Ears

For many of us, earwax is an annoyance. It makes our ears itch and we don’t feel clean unless we scrape it out of our ears every day. But updated guidelines published Tuesday in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery say to leave your ears — and earwax — alone.

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Probably not news to most of us, right? Mom always said to never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.

We need our earwax. It’s a normal substance that your body produces to clean and protect the inside of your ears, says neurotologist Erika Woodson, MD, FACS, a member of the advisory panel that drafted the updated guidelines.

“Earwax has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and helps to keep your ears waterproof,” Dr. Woodson says. “Earwax usually falls out of the ear on its own. So it’s best to let your earwax do its work.”

Other advice in the revamped guidelines:

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  • Don’t over-clean your ears. Excessive cleaning may irritate the ear canal, cause infection, and even increase the chances of painful wax buildup.
  • Don’t put objects in your ear. You could injure your ear and may cut your ear canal, perforate the eardrum, and/or dislocate your ear’s hearing bones, leading to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing, and other symptoms of ear injury.
  • Do seek medical evaluation if you have symptoms of hearing loss, ear fullness, and ear pain if you are uncertain whether they are from a wax buildup.
  • Do ask your provider about whether you should treat your wax buildup at home. You may have certain medical or ear conditions that may make some options unsafe.
  • Do seek medical attention with ear pain, drainage, or bleeding. These are not symptoms of earwax buildup and need further evaluation.

Weighing in on candling

The updated guidelines also weigh in on the practice of ear candling, a home remedy some people use to relieve earaches or wax buildup. Ear candling is sometimes called coning.

In ear candling, a hollow cone made of fabric covered in wax is placed in the ear. The slightly wider end of the foot-long candle is lit. Proponents of ear candling claim the warmth created by the flame causes suction and pulls earwax and other impurities out of the ear canal and into the hollow candle.

The new guidelines warn against the practice of candling, saying it can cause serious damage to the ear canal and eardrum.

“There has not been any scientific benefit shown and actually several reports of harm from this practice,” Dr. Woodson says.

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Hearing aid care

Also new to the guidelines is a focus on ear care for people who use hearing aids. The guidelines recommend people with hearing aids get ear checks and cleanings more frequently and, if necessary, earwax removal by a medical professional.

“The hearing aid sits in the ear canal. As a result, it can physically stop the ear wax from falling out naturally,” Dr. Woodson says. “Some people have an issue with it and some don’t. But we expect that those individuals may need more frequent visits or maintenance.”

The guidelines have not been updated since their original publication in 2008.

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