Your ears are designed to be self-cleaning and will normally produce enough earwax to prevent problems occurring, eventually making its way out of the ear completely on its own.
Many people use cotton buds in an effort to ‘clean’ their ears from excess wax, but you’re actually more likely to cause earwax blockage and further issues. Rather than removing the earwax, it instead pushes it further into the ear, which leads to a build-up, or impacted earwax.
How to clean your ears safely
You’ll probably have seen all sorts of methods and information out there for ear cleaning, but not all of them are a safe or efficient way to clean your ears from a build-up of earwax. We’d always advise seeing a professional, but here are some useful things to know.
Professional ear cleaning
This is the safest and most effective way of cleaning your ears from excess or impacted earwax. Some of our audiologists can do this for you in-store. They will start by having a good look in your ears to determine the best ear cleaning method for you. Then they’ll either remove the wax manually, with specialist tools, or use a method call microsuction which uses a vacuum to gently suck the excess earwax out.
Ear cleaning from home
We would never advise that you try any method of ear cleaning at home. This is because there is a much greater risk of developing an infection or damaging your ear if you try to clean them yourself, rather than leaving it to a professional. You can sometimes use wax softener drops but we’d always recommend you seek advice from a professional.
To keep them in good condition generally, you could use a warm flannel to clean the outside of your ears (making sure that you don’t put anything in your ear) to clear away any excess wax or debris.
Using ear cleaning drops and solutions
For mild cases of earwax build-up, your pharmacist might recommend that you use eardrops to help to dissolve the earwax and prevent it from drying out (dried earwax is harder for the ear canal to naturally push out than soft wax). You’ll most likely have to do this for a few days, after which the earwax should fall out on its own.
You should always speak to a chemist, pharmacist, GP, or audiologist before putting anything in your ears, and always read the leaflet supplied with any drops.
How often should you clean your ears?
Cleverly, our ears are self-cleaning, so generally speaking, they shouldn’t require any cleaning on a regular basis. It’s best to leave them to do what they do best.
Earwax plays an important part in your ear health – it’s naturally anti-bacterial and helps to protect the delicate skin in the ear – so it’s only necessary to remove it when it’s causing you problems.
The only time it may be necessary to clean your ears is if you have issues with excessive earwax that is affecting your hearing, or you’re experiencing the associated symptoms such as:
- Itchy ears
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus (ringing)
- Hearing loss
- Earache or pain
If you naturally produce a lot of earwax that makes you more susceptible to build-ups, a professional will advise you on how often you should get them cleaned.
Can olive oil dissolve earwax?
Olive oil can sometimes be used to soften earwax, but it can’t dissolve it. You shouldn’t put anything in your ears if you have a history of ear infections or if your eardrum is damaged – so it’s always best to get some advice from a professional before you try doing this yourself.
Can you remove impacted earwax at home?
No – we’d strongly advise against trying to remove impacted earwax at home as there’s a risk of causing more permanent damage to your ears in doing so. As a rule of thumb, don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.
Are at-home earwax removal kits safe?
You should avoid buying any at-home earwax removal kits without first getting some advice from an audiologist or pharmacist. They’ll be able to recommend the safest way to remove earwax.
Are cotton buds safe to use?
Cotton buds can pose a lot of unnecessary risk to your ear health – it can push the wax further into the ear canal and put pressure on, or even damage, your eardrum – so it’s best to avoid using them.
What can I do if my ear still feels blocked?
If your ear still feels blocked, get in touch with an audiologist or pharmacist. They might recommend another option to try or refer you on for further help.
Complications of ear cleaning
Putting anything in your ear yourself poses the risk of damaging the eardrum or the delicate skin in the ear canal. You could also push the earwax further into your ear, ultimately making the build-up worse. It’s best to leave it to a professional who has a good view inside your ear and knows what to do.
The golden rule is to never put anything into your ear that is smaller than your elbow – that includes things like cotton buds or hairpins that could damage or perforate your eardrum.
You may have had ear irrigation from your doctor before, but you should never do this yourself. In fact, evidence suggests that cleaning earwax with water, even professionally, has a risk of causing an ear infection, which requires further treatment.
Advice on using ear candles
The intention of ear candling is that it creates a negative pressure by burning one end of a hollow candle to draw the earwax out of the ear canal. However, there is very little evidence around to suggest that ear candling is a good or safe method of removing earwax. In fact, the risk of injury from having an open flame or hot wax so close to your face is enough to avoid it.
Our advice is to steer clear of ear candling and seek advice from your pharmacist or audiologist.
Is there specialised advice for people who wear hearing aids?
Earwax can sometimes prevent hearing aids working to their full potential, so regular cleaning and maintenance is important to keep up with — a yearly appointment is also a good idea. If you feel your hearing has changed or you have any of the symptoms of impacted earwax, you should get in touch with your audiologist for a check-up.