Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

We have a special message from your box of swabs: WARNING! Do not insert swabs into the ear canal. The box of swabs wanted us to pass this along to you since many people still ignore the warning and clean out their ears with swabs anyway. Your swab box, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), your hearing care professional and to your grandmother all urge you to take this warning seriously because you could damage your hearing. Look at these 5 reasons to love your ear wax:

1. Ear Wax Cleans Your Ears

Cerumen is a special ear cleaning solution that you should use to clean out your ears. And cerumen, by any other name, is ear wax. Special glands in your ears produce it for cleaning and other ear health benefits. Instead of aggressively poking around in your ears to remove it, you should just let it be.

Cerumen was specifically designed to grab dust, debris and other undesirable objects and trap them so they can’t go down into your ear canal any further. Then, as you go through your day talking, chewing and yawning, those actions actually move the soiled ear wax down and out of the ear canal where you can easily wipe it out with a washcloth during your shower.

What’s more, if you try to dig out the ear wax with a fingernail, swab, fork, pencil, key, chopstick or other pointy foreign object, you’re actually reversing your ears’ self-cleaning mechanisms by pushing soiled cerumen further into your ear canal with all the dust and dirt it’s collected. Over time, soiled ear wax can build up as it gets shoved into the ear canal, blocking your ear drum. This is called “ear wax impaction” and it’s not pretty or helpful.

2. Ear Wax Guards Your Ears

So while ear wax isn’t what we think of as pretty, nor would anyone like to eat an ear wax flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor jellybean, cerumen is specially designed to benefit your ears and keep them health in several ways. Several glands lining the inside of your ear canal produce a special recipe of cerumen that is designed to protect your ears against several unwanted invaders. This recipe isn’t actually wax, though it creates the waxy substance we know and love out of long-chain fatty acids, sebum, cholesterol, alcohols, enzymes, sloughed off skin cells and other chemicals. This ear wax stew has some great properties:

  • Repelling insects. That’s right. Insects find the smell of ear wax annoying, so they avoid flying into your ears.
  • Protects ears against viruses, bacteria and fungal infections.
  • Moisturizes and lubricates the ear canal, keeping it soft and healthy

3. Ear Wax Removal is Bad for Your Hearing

If you’ve been swabbing out your ear canals for years, it’s entirely possible that you’ve already done some damage to your hearing. When you try to dig ear wax out of your ears with swabs or other pointy objects, it actually shoves excess, used up ear wax further into the ear canal where it gets impacted and causes hearing loss. At this point, it’s a wise idea to schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional so they can examine your ears and safely remove any impacted ear wax and evaluate your hearing loss levels.

To be fair, there are some people who have actual medical problems with their ear wax and need professional assistance. Some people don’t make enough of it, while others make too much. Some people have ear wax that is too wet or too dry, or that may not have an optimal balance of ingredients to adequately protect and clean the ears. Nevertheless, you still shouldn’t try to remedy or clean it out yourself with a swab or anything else (smaller than your elbow). If you’re worried about the health of your ear wax, please get in touch with your hearing care professional for an evaluation.

If you wear hearing aids, ear wax can become impacted if proper care protocols aren’t followed. Fortunately, following your hearing care professional’s advice is a very good way to avoid this. Make sure to properly clean and store your hearing aids at the end of each day and follow any instructions on ear cleaning—instructions that will be entirely devoid of swabs. If you’re having difficulties with hearing aids and ear wax, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional right way.

4. Avoid Ear Cleaning Accidents Like These

Every year, more than 12,500 kids get tympanic membrane tears, cuts, and lacerations from ear cleaning accidents. Sometimes well-meaning parents, intent on proper hygiene, dig around with swabs while the kids are wiggling around. Other times, it’s the kids who learn the swab cleaning habit from their parents and lack the fine motor skills to do it without hurting themselves. Whatever the circumstances, the entire family needs to know that ear cleaning with swabs, ear wax removal and generally poking around in the ear canal for any reason is a bad idea.

Some of you out there may be wondering out loud about the “natural” ear cleaning technique called “ear candling”. Thousands of years ago, someone apparently thought it was a good idea to stick a hollow tube into the ear and set it on fire. But it’s a bad idea with no science behind it, although the practice doggedly remains displayed in health food stores across the nation. Here’s what you should know about ear candling:

  • It’s been proven ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.
  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.

So please—avoid ear candling and just clean your ears the proper way…

5. Try This Ear Cleaning Technique Instead

The only thing you really need to do to clean out your ears is to take a shower. While you’re in there, use a soft washcloth to gently wipe behind and around the outside of your ears. You don’t need to jam your finger into your ear canal – just wipe the outside of it and this should be enough to remove the used-up ear wax that has already finished cleaning your ears. Once you’re done showering, just use a towel to dry around the outside and you’re finished! Ears are safely cleaned and that hard-working ear wax in your ear canal is free to keep doing what it does.

If you have any concerns about your ear wax, your hearing, ear wax removal, ear cleaning habits or anything else associated with your ears, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional today—and be grateful for your wonderful ear wax!