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Clean Ears: This Is How You Finally Clean Your Ears Properly

Stay away from cotton swabs and ear candles! If you want to clean your ears safely and thoroughly, you’d better do that.

It’s already part of everyday bathroom routine: briefly clean your ears after showering. After all, it gives you a clean feeling and is good to drill around your ear canal with the cotton swab in peace of mind. STOP! Don’t do that. Really. Why? It can compromise your hearing. And the ear has a built-in self-cleaning mechanism – you don’t have to do a lot.

What Is Ear Wax, And How Does It Work?

Ear wax is entirely natural and necessary. The sebum glands in the ear canal produce ear wax. This keeps your ear canal supple and protects against infections. The yellow-brownish and greasy body fluids can independently remove dirt and dead cells from the ear canal. By chewing movements, while eating, the ear wax migrates from the inner ear through the ear canal, which is only 1.5 centimeters short as “fast” as your fingernails grow. Already knew? Cold ears are so dangerous in winter

Why Are Q-Tips Or Cotton Swabs Dangerous?

When you slide a cotton swab into your ear canal, you are working against the self-cleaning mechanism of your ear. Some ear wax will stick to the cotton tip. But that’s only a fraction. You stuff most of the earwax back into the inner ear. Problem: Just before the eardrum begins, there is a slight indentation in the ear canal. “This is where the wax will eventually graft,” explains Dr. Adrian Münscher from the ENT University Hospital Hamburg. This can lead to constipation and hearing loss. Then the only thing that will help is professional ear cleaning. So, Q-tips have no place in the ear canal. Not even a little.

Then What Do I Need Q-Tips For?

Only in one case does our expert give the all-clear for its use in the ear: If you only carefully clean the auricle with the cotton swab.

What Home Remedies Can I Use To Clean My Ears?

There are alternatives for those who still want to keep their ears clean. For example, these home remedies:

  • Saline Solution: You can use saline solutions or high-quality oils such as almond oil. Both have the same goal: to soften the earwax. Put 1 to 2 drops in your ear. Then leave it on for 10 minutes. After that, the wax flows out. Once a month, the application is OK.
  • Steam Bath: ear wax is soluble in water. Tip: Put a steam bath in a saucepan, also, with a bit of chamomile, which has a calming effect. Hold your ear over the steam for a few minutes. The ear wax will now become liquid. Then you wipe once through your eavesdroppers with a damp washcloth.    
  • Ear Shower:  The ear shower is available in the pharmacy, but you can also order it online.The tool is usually made of rubber to prevent injuries to the ear canal. Sometimes a solution is included that will help soften earwax. This is how it works: Put warm water in the shower and carefully rinse your ear with it. The exact procedure is on the package insert. It’s faster than a steam bath. But don’t overdo it with washing up.
  •  Ear sprays: 1 to 2 sprays in each ear. Then tilt your head to let the liquid soften the wax. But the rush is not without controversy. ENT doctors warn: If you have too much wax in your ear due to incorrect treatment with Q-Tips, the spray can only soften the first layers of the resin. In such a case, ear spray does not solve the real problem. This can even lead to sticking and worsen the situation—last resort: professional ear cleaning. 
  • Showering: Clean your ears when showering, but do not spray directly into your ear with the nozzle! This can injure the eardrum. Instead, just gently run some warm water into it. Then gently dry your ear with a towel. Complete!

Attention: The following applies to ear sprays and the ear shower: Both should only be used preventively, if at all. If someone already has an earplug and then does an ear shower, it can be hazardous: the water gets behind the plug and causes it to swell. This closes the ear canal even more tightly. So talk to your doctor beforehand. In addition: Anyone who has had a hole in their eardrum or an ear operation should not use any liquid. This could flow into the inner ear. There it can cause dizziness or even an infection.

What Should I Not Do When I Clean My Ears?

Pens, nails, paper clips – hands off! Pointed and sharp objects have no place in the ear. After all, you rummage around blindly in your ear with the devices. There is a good chance that you will injure your susceptible skin of the ear canal. A small scratch is often enough. Then bacteria invade. Consequence: Inflammations can build up and lead to infections. “It’s super uncomfortable and painful,” warns expert Dr. Münscher.

What If The Ear Itches Again?

Put a finger in your ear. It’s thick enough that it only reaches the ear canal, but not into it. So your ear canal remains unharmed. But keep your fingernails short! However, if your ear itches frequently, you should see a doctor. It can indicate inflammation.

What About Ear Candles And Electronic Ear Cleaners? 

  • Ear candles: Hollow candles are made from beeswax. The heat development should generate negative pressure. This is intended to suck the wax out of the ear canal. The candles are often used in the wellness area and alternative medicine. Our expert thinks little of candles for cleaning ears. The negative pressure is far too low to get the wax out. The US health authorities even warn against the use of hollow candles: Burns and eardrum injuries from dripping candle wax can result. 
  • Electronic ear cleaners:  The small plastic devices are available for as little as 6 euros. You can buy some with different colored silicone attachments for the whole family. Similar to the hollow candle, the ear wax is supposed to be sucked out by negative pressure. What does our expert say? Save the money. 

For Whom Is Ear Cleaning Particularly Dangerous?

Two risk groups should be cautious when cleaning their ears.

  • Water sports enthusiasts such as (kite) surfers, divers, or swimmers. They expose their ears to a so-called “cold stimulus” through the water. This stimulus can lead to excessive bone growth being stimulated, explains Dr. Münscher. Result: a narrowing of the ear canal. Such an exostosis makes it difficult for the earwax to self-evacuate. In English, one also speaks of the surfer’s ear because surfers are particularly often affected. The result: an inflammation of the ear canal. In such a case, no washcloth will help. The ears then need to be professionally cleaned.  
  •  Wearers of in-ear headphones and hearing aid: You plug the wax a little further into the ear canal with each insertion. The self-evacuation by the body is thereby hindered. The same applies here: If there are changes in hearing, those affected should have their ears cleaned by a doctor. 

When Should I Go To The Ear Doctor?

As soon as you are in pain. Or if you have the following symptoms:

  • A strong feeling of pressure
  • Change in your hearing performance. For example, when you only hear muffled, as if you had cotton wool in your ear. Either you misused the Q-Tip beforehand. But it can also indicate a sudden hearing loss.
  • Pain on the outside of the auricle. This can be a symptom of an ear infection.
  • Constant itching (with or without purulent discharge). Also, an indication of an inflammation of the ear canal.

You don’t need cotton swabs, pins, or candles to remove excess wax. It is sufficient to clean the auricle with a clean cloth or washcloth.


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