Cleaning your ears
Generally, your ears make just enough wax to protect the ear canal from water and infection. Sometimes, your ears may produce more wax than usual. Although it isn’t medically necessary to remove this wax, you may wish to do so.
Several safe methods of managing excess earwax are available. For example, many wax-removing eardrops or solutions are available. These solutions often use hydrogen peroxide to soften the earwax. This allows the wax to dispel on its own.
What the research says
Hydrogen peroxide has been considered an effective ingredient in earwax removal solutions for many years. Researchers in a 2004 study found that although earwax irrigation is one of the most common treatments, eardrops may be the most cost-effective way to treat earwax buildup at home.
Researchers in a 2015 study in Australian Family Physician also advocate for eardrops as a first-line treatment to help ears self-clean. Earwax irrigation, or using water to remove the wax, can often lead to complications. Using eardrops generally has less room for error and are considered a safer option.
Although hydrogen peroxide is the primary component in many eardrop solutions, research has shown that it may not be critical to treating earwax buildup. Researchers in one 2013 study pushed for the use of distilled water only to soften earwax. The study found that distilled water worked most effectively at disintegrating earwax when compared to water mixed with sodium bicarbonate or an oil-based solution.
How to use hydrogen peroxide to remove earwax
Many solutions contain hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide helps the wax bubble up and results in the wax becoming softer. Debrox and Murine are two common eardrop brands.
Here’s a general approach to using eardrops:
- Lie down on your side. One ear should face up.
- Administer the instructed number of drops into your ear canal and fill it with fluid.
- Keep still for 5 minutes.
- Sit up after 5 minutes, and blot the outer ear with a tissue to absorb any liquid that comes out.
- Repeat this process for your other ear.
Be sure to follow the directions on the eardrop package. You may need to administer the drops more than once per day or over the course of several days.
You can also make your own eardrop solution at home. You can create a solution with a 1-1-2 ratio of water, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide, or just use drops of hydrogen peroxide. Consult your doctor before trying these homemade methods.
Risks and warnings
Be sure to follow the directions provided with the eardrops. If you think you have an ear injury, you shouldn’t use eardrops. This may cause infection or pain.
You should never stick a foreign object into your ear to help remove the wax. If you feel like wax is lodged in your ear and are experiencing discomfort, you should see your doctor.
Other ways to remove earwax
If eardrops aren’t doing the trick, you may consider using an ear syringe to irrigate your ear. You can find these at your local drugstore. Make sure you follow all instructions clearly. If you aren’t sure how to use the ear syringe, consult your doctor.
It’s commonly thought that cotton swabs, or even hairpins or paperclips, can clean the ear. This isn’t accurate. Sticking a foreign object in your ear can actually push the earwax further in the ear or damage the ear canal and eardrum. These outcomes may result in serious complications. If you suspect any of these things has happened to you, consult your doctor.
The bottom line
Most people’s ears make just enough earwax necessary to protect against infections and water. In most cases, you won’t need to remove earwax manually or consult your doctor for treatment. Generally, wax gradually moves out of the ears on its own.
Not everyone’s ears are the same, though. Some people find that their ears produce too much wax.
An excessive amount of earwax can:
- cause difficulty hearing
- cause pain, discharge, ringing, or itching in the ear
- trap bacteria, leading to infections
- obstruct your doctor’s view when looking into your ear and hide more serious ear problems
Call your doctor immediately if you experience pain, hearing loss, or discomfort with your ears. This may be more than an earwax buildup and could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Your doctor can determine the best course of action for you.