What is ear wax?
The reason we feel the urge to clean our ears is because of a substance called cerumen, commonly known as ear wax. Cerumen is a naturally occurring substance made by special glands that only exist in the outer part of the ear canal.
After the wax is produced, whenever you chew and/ or move your jaw it slowly makes its way through the outer ear canal to the opening of the ear where it usually dries up and falls out. The body therefore constantly expels excess wax naturally.
Because ear wax is only formed in the outer part of the ear, the only reason you would have a blockage in your inner ear or against your ear drum is if you tried to clean your ears with a cotton swab (or similar) and pushed the wax deeper than it would naturally go.
Why do we have ear wax?
It’s normal for your body to produce ear wax, and it needs it to protect your ears and the important structures inside your ear that control your hearing and balance as well as major arteries and veins.
Having wax in your ears actually helps to keep your ears healthy; it repels water from your ear canal, has antibacterial properties which reduce the risk of infection, it protects your ears from dust and other particles (including insects) and it keeps the thin skin on your ear canal moisturised. Without ear wax you ears would probably feel fry and itchy.
Should you clean your ears?
Ideally no, your ears will naturally clean themselves. If too much wax builds up in your ear, the wax may become impacted which is called ‘Cerumen impaction’.
Symptoms of impacted wax are:
- Pain or a feeling of fullness in your ear
- Itching, discharge or a smell coming from your ear
- Feeling like your ear is plugged
- Partial loss of hearing, which worsens over time
- Ringing in your ear, known as Tinnitus
This kind of wax build up is rare, but it can happen. If you do experience any of the symptoms listed above, ear wax may not be the only cause so it’s important to speak to a GP or Pharmacist who can examine your ears and find out the cause.
How to clear your ears and what to avoid?
The only reason you should clean your ears at home is to soften ear wax so that it will resolve itself or remove earwax from outside of your ear canals. If you’re going to do either of these, you’ll need to know how to do it carefully so that you don’t damage your ears.
Just use a warm, damp washcloth and avoid getting too much water in your ears. You don’t need to insert anything in your ear. Remember, wax will naturally move to the outer ear where you can then gently wipe it away.
If the wax does not come out on it’s own and blocks your ear, put 2 to 3 drops of medical grade olive oil or almond oil drops in your ear 3 to 4 times a day. Do this for 3 to 5 days.
It is recommended to lay down with your head to one side to insert the drops and stay laying down for a minutes to let the oil work its way through your ear canal. You may there find it easier to do this first thing in the morning and then just before you go to bed.
Over about 2 weeks, lumps of ear wax should fall out of your ear, especially as night when you’re lying down.
Why should I avoid using cotton buds?
Do not stick anything inside your ears to clean them, this include cotton buds, Fingers and any sharp, thin or pointy object. Putting anything inside your ear will only push the wax deeper into your ear which can cause hearing loss and discomfort. There is also significant risk of causing damage to your ear drum and forming a perforation (hole).
The skin of the ear canal and ear drum are some of the thinnest and most delicate skin in the human body, and even the gentle use of a cotton bud within the ear canal can cause enough irritation or injury that could result in ongoing symptoms or problems.
Why should I avoid using ear candles?
Ear candles should not be used to clean your ears. Ear candles are hollow candles that are inserted into the ear canal and lit at the exposed end. Studies have shown they are not effective at removing ear wax and can cause injury. They have been found to cause burns and even pierce the inside of your ear.
- Your ears need wax to stay healthy, comfortable and free from infection
- Your body will naturally move wax to the outer ear where you can then gently clean it away with a damp cloth
- Medical grade olive/ almond oil (available over the counter at your local pharmacy) can soften wax to help your body remove it naturally
- DO NOT stick anything inside your ear to clean it – this will only impact the wax and may cause damage
- DO NOT use ear candles – they don’t work to remove wax and can cause injury
- If you experience symptoms of impacted wax, speak to your GP or Pharmacist who can advise you of the correct treatment