If an audiologist is nearby when you go to your ear with a cotton swab, they will advise you to drop it.Cotton swabs should not be used to clean the ears.(in fact, it even says so on the box). And yet, you're not alone if she sprays herself with a cotton swab after every shower.
On90 percentof people believe their ears should be cleaned and, according to a survey in England, around68 percentof people regularly use cotton swabs to do this. But for most people, ear cleanings, whether at home with a cotton swab or in a clinic, simply aren't necessary.
“Generally speaking, the ear is self-cleaning and is capable of naturally removing earwax [also known as earwax] and debris,” says the audiologist.amy sarow.
That said, there are some circumstances where cleaning may be warranted - here's what you need to know about when to visit a professional for an ear cleaning, and what to expect during the process.
Why Some Ears Need Professional Cleaning
Paradoxically, one of the reasons you may need to clean your ears is if you have a habit of digging with a cotton swab. Pushing that bud in your ear increasesEar waxin the canal, which can lead to excess wax or wax blockage.
Wax only occurs in the outer third of the ear canal (which is about the length of the first knuckle of your little finger), explains audiologist Elly Pourasef of Houston'smemorial audience🇧🇷 “If earwax starts to impact, it's very, very rare for it to magically crawl into the eardrum on its own,” he says. Using a cotton swab most likely pushed the wax deeper into the ear, from the canal to the eardrum.
Other things you put in your ears, like ear protection, headphones, or earphones, can also push wax further into your ear canal, Pourasef says. Chemicals like mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide won't work on wax (although peroxide can be helpful if you havewater trapped in your ear).
Other factors can also lead certain people to have earwax buildup:
- The shape of your ear canal: You're more likely to need professional cleaning if your ear canal is narrow, curved, sloped downward, or surgically altered, says Sarow.
- Skin conditions: If you have certain skin conditions (think: eczema), it can make managing earwax more complicated, notes Sarow. Having a lot of hair in the ears can cause buildup.
- Hearing aids: Wearing them can "interfere with the self-cleaning mechanism of the ear," says Sarow.
Additionally, both older people and those with developmental delays are also more likely to have earwax buildup.
Signs that you need to clean your ears
Some of the signs that you should consider going to a clinic and having your ears cleaned include the following, according to themayo clinic:
- your ear hurts
- There is a feeling of fullness in the ear (as if it were underwater)
- Do you have trouble hearing?
- you are experiencingbuzz, also known as tinnitus or other noises in the ears
- your ear itches
- Your ear smells a bit strange or you have discharge.
- are you feelingtonto
3 methods for professional ear cleaning
There are a few different ways that professionals can clean your ears, removing wax and other debris. The choice will depend on your preferences, as well as other factors. Before you begin, your audiologist will use an otoscope to examine your ear.
"Depending on the consistency of the wax, one or more methods can be used to remove it," says Sarow.
Typically, a softening agent, known as a cerumenolytic, is applied to make wax removal easier and more comfortable, Sarow says.
“Suction will work best for soft wax and is done by inserting a long, thin vacuum nozzle into the ear canal,” she says. You may hear squeaks or crackles during the process, Sarow notes.
“The doctor can visually monitor the extraction process under a microscope as it is taking place,” says Sarow.
This is a low-risk option that works well for most people, Sarow says.
Sometimes suction alone is not enough - a curette may also be needed (more on that below). And it can get quite loud, "which can be uncomfortable for those who are sensitive to sound," says Sarow.
“If the wax is darker in color, hand tools like a curette can be used to break up or remove the debris,” Sarow explains. A curette is a spoon-shaped surgical instrument.
“It's important to stay still during this process and let your doctor know if anything causes you pain or discomfort,” says Sarow.
With this method of wax removal, there is a chance that the skin could be damaged, says Sarow. This "can be particularly uncomfortable if the impacted earwax is in the bony part of the ear canal (closer to the eardrum)," she says.
Your doctor will need to be especially careful if you have diabetes, are taking blood thinners, have a weak immune system, or are HIV-positive, Sarow says.people with diabetesthey have more fragile skin in their ear canals.
With this tactic, water mixed with saline is used to remove wax from the ear canal.
This method is prohibited for anyone with a perforated eardrum. And it is especially important that the water temperature is adequate. “Water that is a few degrees warmer or colder than body temperature can cause dizziness in patients,” says Sarow.
In some clinics or offices, like Pourasef's, there may be a machine calledOreigator™available to carry out this irrigation process.
The 'ear spa' experience
The advantage of this machine, says Pourasef, is that the temperature of the water is regulated. This means the water will feel "relaxing" and like an "ear spa," Pourasef says. Even more important: "It doesn't elicit a gagging or vertigo response," she says. Also, the process is faster than other methods.
Pourasef describes this as "pressure washing" and says that using the Earigator cuts the time down to less than a minute (compared to nearly an hour if you were using suction).
You can get an idea of what to expect from irrigation in the videos that Pourasef publishes about it.Tik TokmiInstagramHe counts. She and other speech therapists have discovered that people thinkFascinating ear cleaning videos.
Ear cleaning steps
Even before the doctor removes the earwax, he or she will likely take a look.
“First, we make sure that the patient has earwax,” Pourasef says. She points out that many people come thinking they have wax and they don't; sometimes there's just nothing there, and sometimes there's a bigger problem, she says. A bunch ofthings can get stuck in our ears, including bugs and hearing aid tips.
Therefore, before any cleaning, the doctor will examine your ears to see if there appears to be earwax. They are also likely to make atimpanograma, a kind of medical test, to confirm that there is no hole in the eardrum, says Pourasef.
No matter what process is used to clean your ears, you can expect it to be pretty quick. "On average, an ear cleaning takes about 15 minutes," says Sarow. And while it may not be the most comfortable, it shouldn't be too heavy either.
"Patients report some pressure or suction during the procedure," Sarow says.
The time it takes and the feeling of discomfort may vary depending on the situation of the wax. If you have an ear canal that's completely clogged with hardened wax, it will take longer to remove, says Sarow. The softer wax is generally easier to remove and a more comfortable process.
You may notice some changes after cleaning your ear, including temporary tinnitus caused by sucking-related sounds or vertigo after irrigation, Sarow says.
But the best side effect you can experience is a positive one. “Many people find that they can hear more clearly after the earwax is removed,” says Sarow.