How to remove earwax:
By Nurse Mark
Many people ask about ear wax removal – probably because conventional medicine has worked so hard to make this simple personal care task into a specialty procedure requiring multiple visits to a clinic. It’s really not all that hard if you follow a few simple rules.
First, remember that your ears are what we used to call in the army “a single-issue item.” If you damage them doing something foolish you will not likely get a second chance – so be careful and think before you put anything in there that might make your problems worse.
Don’t try to remove earwax if you have ear pain or a discharge that looks different than earwax, if you think you have a ruptured eardrum, if you have had ear surgery, or if you have tubes (a.k.a. “grommets”) in your ears. Remember, the only thing that separates the big bad world from your delicate and fragile inner ear machinery is your eardrum.
OK – so you are pretty sure you have an earful of wax. You might have a mild earache or feeling of fullness in the affected ear, you might be hearing ear noise (tinnitus or “ringing” in the ear) or more likely you are experiencing some decreased or muffled hearing in the affected ear. Maybe you even got a cotton swab (Q-Tip) or rolled up tissue and rummaged around in there trying to clean it out and made it worse. (Remember what I said about “a one-issue item”?)
You can go running in to your local urgent care clinic or your doctor for help, or you can look after this yourself – remember, this is not rocket science or brain surgery, and mankind has been successfully dealing with earwax for as long as there have been ears.
Remember – earwax is normal. Some folks have more, some have less, but everybody makes it. It normally looks after itself and falls out of the ear all on it’s own – but sometimes it needs a bit of help.
First things first: are you drinking enough pure water? If you are dehydrated, even a little bit, your ear wax can become drier, harder, and stickier too.
So, you have probably tried letting the warm water run into your ear while you showered or washed your hair – this is often all the care that is needed for most folks and their ear wax washes out all by itself.
But that didn’t work for you, so it’s time to get serious. We’ll work at this in steps.
The first step is to simply soften and loosen the earwax. You can do this with a few drops of a light oil. Remember, anything you put on the largest organ of your body, your skin, you will absorb into your body in some amount – so don’t use anything that you would not be willing to eat. Olive oil is a fine choice for this task.
Warm a little bit of oil to body temperature and allow a few drops of it to run into your ear canal. This task will be made much easier if you have someone to help – you can lay on your side and let your friend and gravity do the work – but it can be done by one person alone too.
That’s it – just run a few drops in and give it some time. Overnight is perfect. Please don’t plug your ear with anything to try to “keep the oil in.” The whole idea is for the oil and the softened wax to come out – not stay in. Put in a few drops of oil at bedtime, go to sleep on your side to help the oil stay in for a while, and usually by morning the oil and the wax will be gone. You might want to cover your pillow with an old towel to keep it clean.
Well alright, so that didn’t work. On to the next step.
Make up a mixture of hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room-temperature water. Place a few drops of this, warmed to body temperature, in the ear twice a day for several days. Be sure to warm the fluid because cold fluid can cause pain and dizziness. You won’t make that mistake twice!
Once the wax is loose and soft, all that is usually needed to remove it from the ear canal is a gentle, warm shower.
Direct the water into the ear, then tip your head to let the water and earwax drain out.
If all that doesn’t work, you can try a non-prescription wax softener (which is usually just oil) followed by gentle flushing with an ear syringe each night for a week or two. Make sure the flushing solution is body temperature. Cool or hot fluids in the ear can cause dizziness.
You can find ear syringes or irrigation bulbs at any pharmacy – or just look around your home: any squeeze bottle that will allow you to squirt a narrow stream of water will work – make sure to clean it well before use. Be gentle and be patient – it may take a few irrigations to get stuff loosened up. You are not trying to “blast” it out, but just gently flush the ear canal.
Don’t use cotton swabs, bobby pins, toothpicks, pencils, wadded up napkins or other objects to clean the ear. Besides being at risk for damaging something, usually all these things do is drive the wax in deeper.
Don’t use a dental irrigation device, like a “Water Pik”, to remove earwax. The force of the water can injure the ear canal and rupture the eardrum. Besides, you really won’t enjoy the way that feels – the ear canal and eardrum are sensitive!
I don’t recommend ear candles. I have seen no proven benefit in the removal of earwax with them and they can cause serious injury. (Say what?!? An open flame beside my head? And burning hot wax dripping? Are you kidding?) If you use them and like them, fine – but I won’t recommend them.
Some things to watch for during home treatment:
If you follow these simple instructions and heed the few common-sense cautions here then removing your earwax build-up should be easy and uneventful. Mostly what you’ll have to deal with are stains on your pillow from the oil and earwax that will come out overnight. A towel to cover the pillow helps. Most of the cleaning will occur during your daily shower – you do have a water filter on your shower, right?
Just FYI, we are very impressed with the products and service offered by Aquasana – they can provide you with a highly effective showerhead filter or a whole-house system.
Some people’s ear canals are more difficult to get drops into (and wax out of) than others. Gently grasping the ear and pulling it up and back a bit can help to straighten the ear canal. The normal ear canal does not go straight in – it angles a bit forward toward the nose.
If other symptoms develop, such as ear pain, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness, severe itching, or bad-smelling discharge from the ear it is time to get some help.
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