by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Q. What should a person do about earwax?  What’s that you say? Huh?? :)
Judy, Tennessee

A. Most people don’t need to clean out their ears. The wax is there for protection, and the little hairs in your ears will usually bring it out naturally.

However, some people produce a little too much wax or impede the natural process by packing it in with earplugs or earbuds. They may begin to have muffled hearing.

If earwax is giving you trouble, here are some suggestions on how to clean it out:

  1. DON’T use cotton swabs, such as Q-tips. They pack the wax in and may damage your ears.  Never use anything to clean your ears that’s smaller than a finger in a washcloth.
  2. DON’T use ear candles for removal. Again, you can damage your ears. The debris you see after using them is waste from the procedure, not contents from your ear.
  3. DO purchase an earwax-removal kit. Put a few drops of the solution in your ears before bedtime for several nights. The wax will become soft and may come out on its own during the night.
  4. If it doesn’t, DO try irrigating your ears with the bulb syringe that comes with the kit (like the one pictured).
    • Use lukewarm water so you won’t get dizzy.
    • If you don’t have a bulb syringe you can try a shot syringe without the needle. If not that, try a steady squeeze of water through a pinhole in a plastic bag or bottle—or anything that will spray a steady stream (not too hard, of course) of water in your ear canal.
    • While irrigating, grab the back of your ear with your other hand. Pull backwards and slightly upwards. This straightens and opens the canal so the water can get to the back better.
    • You’re through if you see a glob of wax come out. Stop anyway if you don’t see one within about five minutes or if you have pain or dizziness. You can try again in a few hours. By that time the wax should be even softer.
    • After you finish put a couple of drops of alcohol in your ear. You can mix it with peroxide if you have it. The alcohol helps dry up excess water.
  5. If the irrigation works, DO use the removal solution in your ears at night every week or so to keep the wax soft and coming out. You won’t need the syringe again, or will only need it rarely.

If you can’t get the wax out after a couple or three sessions, just stop until you can see a health-care provider. You don’t want to irritate the ear so much that it leads to an infection.

If you’ve had wax in your ear, how did you get yours out? What was the cause?

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