The way we obsess with removing wax from our ears, you’d think it’s something hurtful or dangerous. In fact, earwax is the good guy, protecting and lubricating our ears. And improper removal of earwax can cause damage and infection, says Dr. Marcella Bothwell, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
“Earwax acts as a filter. It prevents harmful things like bugs, sand, and dirt from getting into our ears and into the ear drum. It’s also antimicrobial,” she says. “Think of earwax as the body’s own natural antibiotics.”
According to WebMD, here are some other fascinating facts, and sometimes fiction, about earwax, or its more accurate term, cerumen:
- Earwax is dirt that should be removed. Not so. Dr. Shreha Pathak, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, says that earwax is a sign of a healthy ear.
- Cotton swabs are the best way to remove earwax. Nope. Put down the cotton swab. Never put pointy objects into your ear as these can puncture the eardrum and damage the small bones in your ear. Cotton swabs can even push the wax further into the ear where it can harden and cause hearing problems.
- Earwax is created in the outer ear. Yes, according to WebMD, the 3-centimeter tunnel which is the outer third of your ear canal has glands that produce earwax.
- Earwax should be removed regularly. Again, this is a myth. Dr. Pathak says that for 95% of the population, the ear is able to self-clean. “Skin follicles lining the inner ear canal perform a conveyor belt function removing earwax to the front of the ear,” she explains. “Over a period of time, it either falls out or washes away. Gently wiping the outermost part of the ear with a big cotton ball or a tissue, taking care never to insert anything into the ear canal, should be enough.”
- Chewing helps remove old earwax. Yes, the motion of your jaws helps break down the earwax, so it dries and falls out naturally.
- Ear candles effectively remove wax from ears. No! Ear candling, placing a hollow cone soaked in beeswax or paraffin in your ear while lighting the other end is dangerous, says WebMD. It’s a myth that the heat can draw out the wax and people who have used this technique have burned themselves, blocked their ear canals with candle wax, and punctured their eardrums.
- Hydrogen peroxide is the best way to remove excess wax buildup at home. Yes, but you can also try ear drops, mineral oil, saline solution, or olive oil inside if you think you have too much earwax buildup. These liquids can help dissolve the wax or soften it. “The cheapest and most useful way is using hydrogen peroxide,” says Dr. Bothwell. “Make a half water and half hydrogen peroxide mixture and place 5 drops in the ear canal at night. I recommend alternating ears each night, so you will be able to lie on one side and let the solution soak in to dissolve the wax.” Bothwell says some people may indeed have an overabundance of earwax and may require cleaning by an ENT.
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