Popular Misconceptions about Safe Ear Cleaning and Earwax Management

Ear cleaning is a deeply divisive topic. It’s also kind of gross, so people don’t really like to discuss it.
Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a waxy substance secreted in the ear canal. It’s there for a reason. It protects the ear canal and the small hairs that are a crucial part of the hearing mechanism from particles and from drying out. There’s also some evidence that it might have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
If that’s the case, why does modern society wage a war on earwax? Almost everyone believes that they should thoroughly swab their ears with Q-Tips on a daily basis to keep them clean. If you were to ask them, they would probably say that cleaning their ears is good for their hearing.
Herein lies the big misconception.
Nearly every audiologist will tell you not to use Q-Tips. The ear is a fragile mechanism, and sticking anything inside it, even if it’s made of cotton, is a bad idea. If you feel like you have to clean something, then at least make sure you stay on the outside of the ear canal.
The truth is that most people don’t have to do anything to clean their ears and they will not have problems with earwax. The human body has a way of regulating these things. In fact, using Q Tips can sometimes lead to more problems because it pushes earwax deeper into the ear canal, causing it to become impacted and build up.
If your hearing sounds muffled and you think it might be due to earwax, do not try any home remedies. Go the the audiologist’s office and have the earwax professionally removed by someone who knows what they’re doing and won’t risk damaging your hearing.
A note for those with hearing aids: When you take off your hearing aids, you may notice that they have earwax on them. This is normal, and modern hearing aids are designed to be oleophobic (they repel oil and wax). Many models also come with wax guards that catch earwax before it can clog up the devices.
Occasional clogging of the hearing aid is possible. If you’re noticing things are weird with your hearing aid, check out the entry points for the microphone — you may have to clean out the earwax from them and that might fix your problem.
Having issues with earwax? Schedule an appointment today to get it looked at and removed!

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.