You've likely heard the saying: “Don’t put anything in your ear canal bigger than your elbow.” That is sage advice. Your ear canals and eardrums play an important role in your hearing.
It's not a good idea to put Q-tips, hairpins and the like into your ear canal as you run the risk of puncturing the eardrum, scraping the ear canal, causing infection, or pushing cerumen or earwax further into the ear canal and causing blockage.
Another reason not to use Q-tips is because each time they are used they leave behind little strands of cotton fibre, these strands tend to mix with cerumen and form a difficult to remove wax-plug.
Cerumen or earwax is a naturally occurring substance that lubricates, cleans and protects the ear canal. It is produced by the outer third cartilaginous portion of the outer ear canal. The origin of the word cerumen is from Latin “ceru” which means wax.
It plays an important role in neutralizing ear canal bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. It is also thought to keep insects out of your ear canal. Cerumen comes in different colours: white, yellow, brown and black.
There are two types of cerumen: the wet type and the dry type. Genetics normally determines the kind you have. People of African or European origin are predisposed to have the wet type, and people of Asian or Native American origin the dry type.
Your ear canal is self-cleaning. The skin cells of the ear canal grow in a conveyor-belt fashion. These skin cells are generated at the eardrum and move in a lateral or outward direction along the ear canal walls carrying debris out of the ear canal. Jaw movement and gravity assist in moving of debris and cerumen out of your ear canal.
On rare occasion your ear canal may become blocked or occluded with cerumen and may need to be cleaned, if so then it is best to get the situation assessed professionally by your medical doctor or an audiologist.
Cerumen poses a unique problem for those that wear hearing aids. It is arguably the leading cause of hearing aid break down. Hearing aids have changeable wax filters that are quite effective in preventing the hearing aid components from becoming clogged. The wax filters need to be changed regularly.
There are three main techniques professionals use to clean the ear canal: by syringing with water, medical grade suction or stainless-steel curette tools. Ear drops such as mineral oil may assist in cerumen removal, however, only put ear drops in if it is recommended by a doctor.
If an eardrum perforation is present or suspected special care is required, it is recommended to consult a professional. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology ear candling is not an effective method to clean the ear canal.
The ear canal plays an important role in hearing. Cerumen or earwax helps to lubricate, clean and reduce bacterial growth in the ear canal. The ear canal doesn't need to be cleaned with Q-tips and the like. Should you have concerns about cerumen blockage, consult your doctor or an audiologist.