Earwax (ear wax) is a natural substance produced by glands in the skin of the outer ear canal. The wax acts as a helpful coating for the ear canal so removal of it is not necessary. However, in cases of blockage or excessive buildup, it may be necessary to try to remove the impacted or excessive wax.
Excessive wax buildup can be caused by putting small things in your ears like a hearing aid, hairpins, headphones, Q-tips, etc. Putting these things in your ear pushes the wax further down the canal. Never stick anything in your ear, including cotton swabs.
Signs and symptoms of wax
- Loss of hearing
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Reflex cough
- A feeling of fullness in the ear
Should you clean your ears?
In a 2018 study of 206 college-aged students, the vast majority practiced ear-cleaning. Seventy-five percent said they believed the practice to be beneficial for their health.
But the thing is, you don’t really need to clean earwax out of your ears. Earwax isn’t dirt. Earwax serves an important purpose: lubricating and protecting your ears. It even helps reduce your risk of ear infections, since it has antibacterial properties.
The risks of removing your earwax can outweigh the potential benefit. Cleaning out earwax with a cotton swab can damage or irritate your ear canal or even puncture your eardrums. You should also understand that when you clean out the earwax you can see — using an object you put in your ear — you’re also shoving earwax deeper into your ears, which can lead to earwax impaction (blockages) over time.
How to remove earwax safely at home
Soften earwax blockages with oil
Earwax is an oil-like substance. Thus, some oils can cause earwax to soften when the two substances come into contact. Proponents of this remedy suggest using the following oils:
- baby oil
- coconut oil
- mineral oil
- olive oil
To use oil for earwax removal:
- If desired, slightly warm your chosen oil and pour it into a dropper bottle. Don’t warm the oil in the microwave. Always test the temperature before putting it in your ear.
- Tilt your head to the side and place a few drops of oil into your ear.
- Keep your head tilted to the side for 5 minutes.
- Repeat once or twice per day.
How to remove ear wax with hydrogen peroxide
You can remove earwax at home using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.
- Tilt your head to the side and drip 5 to 10 drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear.
- Keep your head tilted to the side for 5 minutes to allow the peroxide to penetrate the wax.
- Do this once a day for 3 to 14 days.
A bulb syringe
If ear cleaning drops don’t work, the ears might need flushing with a bulb syringe, which are available at drug stores or grocery stores. You’ll want to fill the syringe with warm water, place it near your ear opening, and carefully squeeze the bulb. The warm water will flood your ear and break up the wax. Turn your head to the side over a sink or bathtub to let the water (and, ideally, wax) flow out.
However, there are a few caveats:
- Be gentle: Flush your ear gently to avoid harming your eardrum.
- Watch the temperature: The water should not be too cold or too hot. If it is either, the temperature difference could make you dizzy.
- Avoid if necessary: Don’t use the flushing method if you have a hole in your eardrum or if you’ve ever had eardrum surgery. Flushing may damage your eardrum repair.
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You can remove earwax at home using baking soda:
- Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 ounces of warm water.
- If you have a dropper bottle, pour the solution into it.
- Tilt your head to the side and gently drip 5 to 10 drops of the solution into your ear, 1 drop at a time.
- Leave the solution in the ear for up to 1 hour, then flush with water.
- Do this once a day until the earwax clears up. It may happen within a couple of days. Don’t do this for any longer than 2 weeks.
Sometimes earwax can be dislodged by the light pressure of water flushing:
- Purchase a soft rubber bulb syringe made for ear cleaning, and fill it with warm water.
- Tilt your head to the side with a thick towel or basin below the ear.
- Gently squeeze the bulb so that the warm water shoots into your ear.
- Allow the water to run down into the towel or basin.
- You may even do this over a bowl so that you can see if any visible pieces of earwax fall out.
Irrigation can be combined with any of the methods recommended above. Perform irrigation 5 to 15 minutes after you use baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or oil.
In a small trial that included 38 children, pediatricians found that irrigating the ears in a clinical setting was just as if not more successful at dislodging earwax as scraping it out with a metal tool.
Is ear candling safe?
Ear candling involves placing a hollow candle (made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax) in the ear canal and burning it to create a suction force for the removal of wax from the ears.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, ear candling or ear coning is not considered a safe option for ear wax removal.
- Studies have shown that the procedure does not create a vacuum that can remove the wax effectively, and the wax left inside the candle is from the candle itself, not from the ear.
- The procedure also carries health risks that include burns to the ear canal, the development of new blockage of the canal from the candling wax, ear infection, and perforation of the eardrum.
Inserting cotton buds or other objects into the ear in an attempt to clean it can actually cause or worsen an earwax blockage. This is because the objects push the earwax further down into the ear canal.
To prevent earwax blockages, a person should avoid sticking anything into their ear. Earwax may seem unpleasant, but cleaning is not usually necessary. The ears are actually self-cleaning and should push most wax out.
If the body is producing excessive amounts of earwax, people can buy OTC ear drops to deal with the problem safely.
Another method of preventing earwax blockages involves a person placing drops of a solution into their ears a few times per month to help soften the earwax. People can choose from a range of products online, including:
- earwax removal drops
- mineral oil
- hydrogen peroxide
Regularly irrigating the ear may help prevent earwax buildups, but it is usually best to save this for treating an actual blockage. A person should never irrigate the ears of young children without talking with a doctor first.
When to see a doctor
People can treat most earwax blockages at home. However, the ear canal and eardrum are delicate, so it can be safer to visit a doctor for earwax removal.
People should also see a doctor if they have bleeding or drainage from the ear or are in significant pain, as another issue may be causing the symptoms.
Anyone with concerns about impacted cerumen in a young child should make an appointment with a pediatrician. They will be able to check the child’s ears and recommend treatment options.
A doctor may remove the blockage using specialized ear instruments.
A person may need to see their doctor after a few days if symptoms persist or get worse with home treatment.
If you feel that you have an earwax problem, your first step is to check with a doctor. They can decide if it’s a condition to address, a symptom of an underlying condition, or something to let your body handle without assistance.
Being overly aggressive with removing wax from your ears can sometimes lead to problems with your hearing, or ear canals that are itchy, painful, or more prone to infection. When reviewing your concerns with your doctor, discuss home remedy ideas to see if they’re the correct course of action for your situation.