The dos and don’ts of ear wax removal

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Ear wax removal. It’s an icky, albeit necessary part of many a beauty routine. But are you cleaning your ears correctly?

Although excess ear wax can cause hearing difficulties and discomfort, removing it incorrectly can cause damage to sensitive parts of the ear.

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Here’s how to remove that pesky ear wax safely and effectively (without resorting to any dangerous or ill-advised methods)…

Ear wax 101

Before you go to town on your ear wax, it’s important to understand what ear wax is, and why it is there in the first place. Also known as cerumen, it is secreted in the ear canal. It ranges in colour from yellowish to reddish brown and, despite being rather sinister-looking, research shows that it protects the skin of your ear canal, and against bacteria, fungi, insects (gross, I know) and water entering the deeper part of the ear.

Ear wax is primarily (about 60 per cent) comprised of shed skin cells, as well as hair, and the secretions of the ceruminous and sebaceous glands of the outside ear canal. Ear wax is a normal secretion and, as betterhealth.vic.gov.au explains, “Actions of the jaw, such as talking and chewing, help to move the wax out of the canal.” In other words, ear wax “is constantly travelling towards the outer ear where it can come out.” Occasionally, however, a build-up of earwax can occur. This excess or compacted ear wax can press against the eardrum and/or block the outside ear canal, causing hearing difficulties, tinnitus, itching, vertigo or pain.

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How to remove ear wax

Cleaning out excess ear wax from the ear canal is a delicate exercise. The idea is not to eliminate the wax entirely, but simply to keep it from blocking your ear. While cotton buds such as Swisspers Cotton Tips or BEAUTY ESSENTIALS Cotton Tips 100 pack ($1.99, priceline.com.au) were initially invented to help remove ear wax, studies have shown that this method often removes only a small portion of the top layer of wax, pushing the rest further into the ear canal. In some cases, the cotton head may cause damage to the ear canal, or even fall off and become lodged in the ear canal. Therefore, cotton tips should be used only to clean the external ear.

Experts generally agree that more invasive removal methods (including those that involve suction, irrigation with a syringe or small forceps or spoons) should only be carried out by a general practitioner or ear specialist, or individuals who have been sufficiently trained in the procedure.

For gentler, at-home ear wax removal, health professionals recommend using ear cleaning drops, which will help soften the hard wax plug naturally and allow it to come easily out of the ear. Ear cleaning drops can be purchased from most leading chemists and pharmacies.

  • EAR CLEAR Wax Removal (Ear Drops) ($12.30, priceline.com.au)
  • Audiclean Ear Wax Remover ($8.99, chemistwarehouse.com.au)
  • Audiclean Ear Wash 60ml & Ear Wax Remover 12ml Pack ($18.99, chemistwarehouse.com.au)

Please note that this method should not be used if you have (or suspect you could have) a perforated ear drum.

What not to do

Experts warn that ramming small objects, buds or syringes into your ear repetitively can damage the fragile tissue of your ear, or even perforate the eardrum. Abrasion of the ear canal, particularly after water has entered from swimming or bathing, can also lead to an ear infection.

While ear syringes such as Surgipack 6314 Ear Syringe ($7.39, chemistwarehouse.com.au) are available over the counter, most experts agree this method is best left to a general practitioner or ear specialist (unless you have been specifically trained in the procedure by said expert).

Finally, it is also important not to over-clean your ears, as this can cause inflammation and irritation. To remove a small to moderate amount of wax, experts recommend cleaning your ears just once a week.

Do you use ear wash and/or ear wax remover products? Did you find this article helpful?

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