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Cleaning Ears: How to Do It Properly & Busting Myths

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

How to Clean Ears

Myth #1: Earwax is bad.

THE TRUTH: Earwax, also known as cerumen, is normal and is your ear's way of keeping bad things, such as dust and dirt, out of your ears. Earwax can vary in color from a yellow or orange color to light or dark brown. Earwax helps to protect and lubricate your ears. Without earwax, your ears would be dry, itchy, and home to all sorts of unwanted debris, even the occasional insect. Yuck!

Myth #2. You need to clean inside your ears.

THE TRUTH: Your ears are actually self-cleaning. Earwax helps your ears to self-clean by trapping dirt and dust before they go deep into your ear and then moving them outward.

You should never put cotton swabs or other pointy objects into your ears. This will usually push wax further back into your ear and can cause hard balls of wax to form in your ear that can later lead to pain and trouble hearing. Putting objects in your ear can also lead to bruising, scratches, bleeding, and pain. If you put objects far enough back, you could even puncture your eardrum, which is extremely painful and can also affect your hearing.

You only need to clean earwax that has already moved to the outer parts of your ears that you can see and reach easily. You can do this with a just a washcloth during showers or baths.

Myth #3. Getting water in your ears leads to infection.

THE TRUTH: Most infections of the ear happen behind the eardrum (otitis media) and have nothing to do with water or moisture in your outer ear or ear canal. Washing your ears routinely during showers and baths and allowing a little bit of soap and water to get around, or even in your ears, can actually help to keep your earwax soft and your ears problem-free. Just be sure to dry the outsides of your ears well after bathing and turn your head to the side to help drain any moisture that you can still feel in your ears.

Ear infections of the outer ear or ear canal (otitis externa) can occur but are much less common than otitis media and are often related to swimming, also known as "swimmer's ear". You can prevent this type of infection by following some of the same instructions as above. Turn your head to the side to help drain any water you can feel in your ear canals after swimming or bathing. Wash your ears gently with soap and water after swimming to remove chlorine and other irritants from your ear canal. And dry the outsides of your ears well after swimming or bathing.

For those of you wondering if these same rules apply to your baby or children, yes! Ear care is universal and should be treated the same for all ages.

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All content on this website, including medical opinion and any other health-related information is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor before starting any specific treatment plan.

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