Your earwax is a naturally occurring, albeit a little gross, part of the body but it’s there for a very good reason. By removing it, you could be doing serious harm. Shona Hendley explains why.
I have a confession; this story was inspired by my husband. He will be mortified that I have shared this waxy little secret with the world but sometimes we have to learn the hard way (yes, I am talking about you, love).
You see, my husband is an obsessive ear cleaner. Now, I don’t know if this is an actual certified condition (although I think it should be) but he will stick cotton tips in his ears as a part of his daily grooming routine as frequently as teeth brushing. I am human, so I do understand that sometimes your ears can feel legitimately waxy, but daily cleaning?! Really?!
My utter state of perplexity is not felt by me alone, because according to experts, there is never (some exceptions excluded) a reason to clean your own ears. Nope, not by syringing them with water, not by candling them, or, not by sticking a foreign object like cotton tips inside them (or scraping wax out of them with bobby pins – yes, I know someone who does this). This is why.
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It’s not necessary
Like most parts of our body, our ears are pretty self-reliant. For the most part, they do their ear thing without needing any assistance along the way, including the cleaning component.
Dr Benjamin Wei, an ear, nose and throat specialist told Body+Soul that “ears have a natural cleaning mechanism by producing earwax which naturally migrates from deeper inside the ear canal to the outside.”
By inserting cotton tips or other foreign objects into the ear, it can actually push the wax (medically known as cerumen) further back into your ear, making the wax build up worse.
Instead, by leaving the ear to do its own thing, the wax will naturally migrate out to the outer part of the ear where the wax can then be removed safely.
It can be harmful
Possibly the biggest reason to leave the ear wax where it is is what can happen if you don’t.
The Australian Family Physician says, “When the self-cleaning mechanism is disrupted, wax accumulates and can become impacted. Narrowing or obstruction of the ear canal, due to anatomical variations or infectious or dermatological diseases, can interfere with the normal migratory process.
Irritation from foreign objects placed in the ear (e.g. cotton tips, hearing aids and earplugs) can cause chronic changes to the skin of the ear canal and impair normal epithelial migration. Cotton buds also tend to push cerumen deeper into the ear canal.”
Dr Wei also says that by removing ear wax, you are also removing the natural physical protection that ear wax provides.
“Ear wax creates a physical barrier to protect the ear from insects and infections,” he explains.
“Inserting a foreign object to clean the ear can remove skin inside the ear which also acts as a form of defence. The risk of infection rises with the use of ear syringes with water and so does peripheral damage to the ear canal and drum by objects being inserted too far.
Wax impaction can also occur when the wax is pushed too far back, and this can lead to painful ear infections and loss of hearing.”
Ear wax is not a sign of poor hygiene
While everyone makes their own amount of earwax depending on factors such as age, ethnicity, and the environment we live in, generally, our bodies make the correct amount for what we need, and this wax is perfectly healthy and definitely not a sign of being unhygienic.
In fact, due to all of the actions ear wax performs, it is really the opposite. It’s a natural moisturiser, preventing the skin inside the ear from becoming too dry; it’s a dirt and dust trap preventing bacteria and infectious organisms from reaching deep into the ear canal, and wax also triples as a sponge for dead skin cells and debris.
If you are someone who makes a bit more waxy goodness than others, or if your wax build-up is a bit harder and is having trouble exiting naturally, you can seek assistance (just not with cotton tips).
Dr Wei says that over the counter drops can be used to soften the war wax, which allows it to then come out naturally. But if you are still having issues or difficulty hearing due to a wax build-up, he advises seeking medical treatment so that the wax can be removed safely.
So, there you have it, the whole ball of wax.
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.