Trouble hearing? Or did you push that cotton swab a little too deep this time? A clogged ear from earwax buildup is at best annoying and at worst a prelude to hearing loss.
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But earwax, also known as cerumen, is not only normal, it’s necessary.
“People think that earwax is dirty and needs to be cleaned, but earwax has both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties,” says ear, nose and throat specialist Anh Nguyen-Huynh, MD. “It also protects ears from things that could hurt the eardrum, such as dust, hair or small insects.”
Factors that can affect your amount of earwax include previous ear surgery or trauma, recurrent ear infections, or wearing hearing aids or deep earplugs.
How to remove earwax safely
So how can you best handle earwax woes?
“Sometimes, trying to clean them causes more problems than it’s worth,” says Dr. Nguyen-Huynh. “Ears are like self-cleaning ovens. When the outer layer of skin in the ear canal sheds, the wax will fall out with it.”
If earwax is becoming a nuisance, Dr. Nguyen-Huynh recommends several easy ear cleaning methods:
Over-the-counter ear cleaning drops
If you have a small amount of wax, over-the-counter ear cleaners work well. Look for drops that contain hydrogen peroxide or other kinds of peroxide. The peroxide does a good job of breaking up earwax.
Here’s how to use ear cleaning drops:
- Lay sideways: Make sure the ear you’re cleaning faces up and add the drops as directed.
- Let it sit: Allow the cleaning solution to sit in your ear for around five minutes. This lets the liquid soak in and soften things up.
- Grab a tissue: When you sit up, the liquid should come out along with the earwax that broke loose. Have a tissue ready to catch it all.
Ear cleaning drops may not work if you have too much earwax or a condition called impacted cerumen (when there’s a firm wax plug blocking your ear canal).
“When it’s a plug, putting peroxide in your ear may make things worse because you’re softening the plug but not dissolving or removing it,” Dr. Nguyen-Huynh says. “Then the softened plug becomes like a wall of mud that can plug your ear even more.”
A bulb syringe
If ear cleaning drops don’t work, the ears might need flushing with a bulb syringe, which are available at drug …….