Are cotton swabs your guilty pleasure?

If you love to covertly mine your ear for wax using a cotton tip, then think again. You could be ramming the wax deeper into the ear canal, which has the potential to dampen your hearing or even cause tinnitus.

But don’t despair; you don’t have to give up ear cleaning altogether. Get a similar sense of satisfaction to illicit cleaning, by using different methods which are safe and more effective.

Do you need to clean your ears?

But first let’s answer the obvious question: Do you need to clean your ears?

This depends on your genes or if you wear earbud headphones for long periods of time. The in-ear headphones interfere with the ears natural means of getting rid of wax, and much like putting a plug in a sink with a dripping tap, cause wax to build up.

Likewise if your hearing seems dull, or you have itchy uncomfortable ears then a buildup of earwax could be one possible explanation. By all means try cleaning your ears at home but if the problem doesn’t resolve then consult an audiologist.

How to properly clean your ears

You are not alone in wanting to clean your ears. Each year, around 12 million Americans visit a physician or audiology clinic for professional ear cleaning. In addition there are untold numbers who use home-cleaning methods or unproven practices such as ear candling.

Key to good home ear cleaning is to be gentle and not over-enthusiastic, either in terms of how often you clean the ears or how vigorously you do it.

On a day to day basis, after a shower wipe out your ear with the corner of a clean towel is sufficient. This lifts away the wax brought up to the outside by the ear’s natural mechanism.

If you suffer with dry wax or excessive amounts, then every two to four weeks use a softening agent gently dripped into each ears and left to work for five to 10 minutes. Then tip the head in the opposite direction and mop up the overspill with a clean washcloth.

You can buy proprietary ear cleaners, but don’t disregard simple options such as a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil or even hydrogen peroxide, which can do the job just as well.

Avoid home remedies

And finally, methods such as ear candling, while popular, are ineffective. The idea is to place the narrow end of a hollow wax candle in the ear and light the upper end. In theory a vacuum is created which draws out earwax. In practice, the exciting looking lump of yellow goo is actually melted candle rather than earwax, and the procedure is liable to do more harm than good.