Why Cleaning Your Ears is Dangerous (and What You Should Do Instead)

Creating a regular ear hygiene routine may seem like a healthy aspect of self-care, and studies show that over 98 percent of people engage in some form of ear-cleaning

However, earwax is designed to clean and protect the ear. It’s created by glands in the skin and traps dust and debris from entering the eardrum. If the ear produces too much earwax or needs to replace it, the ear will naturally dispose of it as we sleep. 

Therefore, cleaning your ears is not only unnecessary but also potentially harmful. Of the 98 percent of people who regularly cleaned their ears, 2 percent injured themselves in the process.  

Here are some tips to safely clean your ears and why you may not need to clean them as often as you think you should.

Why Cleaning Your Ears is Dangerous

Why Ear Cleaning is Dangerous

Cleaning your ear with a cotton swab is both ineffective and dangerous. As you insert the tip of the cotton swab into your eardrum, you only push the earwax further into the ear. Therefore, your hearing will become more stifled, and you may feel pain. 

Additionally, as you insert the swab into the ear canal, you expose the ear to more debris that could cause infection or damage.

In more extreme cases, you could end up in the hospital. Research shows that over 12,000 children are sent to the hospital each year due to injuries from cotton swabs. The most common injuries sustained include foreign body sensation, perforated eardrums, and soft tissue injury. 

Cleaning Your Ears Properly

Unfortunately, most people experience stuffy ears at some point in their lives, and it can be tempting to use a cotton swab to clean it. Rather than using a cotton swab, here are some safe ways you can clean your ears if you feel your hearing is stuffy.

Oils

olive oil

Using an eyedropper to insert mineral oil, baby oil, or saline solution into the eardrum will help loosen the earwax. While hydrogen peroxide is also effective at loosening earwax, it could cause a problem if there is an underlying medical condition causing the earwax build-up.  

Apply only a few drops and allow your ear to absorb it.

Showering

shower

After applying an oil to your ear, take a shower. The warm water will help loosen any excess earwax and you can gently tip your head from side to side to allow the water to enter the ear canal. Avoid positioning your ear too close to the showerhead as it will trap the water inside the ear and may cause a ringing effect for several hours. 

You can also use a washcloth to gently massage around the ear and clean the outer parts of the ear. 

Wrapping Up

If you still feel stuffy after using these home remedies, consider making an appointment with a doctor. They have processes that allow instant relief for most cases and can also identify underlying medical conditions in which earwax build-up is a side effect. Keep cotton swabs out of reach of children, and don’t worry about cleaning minor earwax build-up.

(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)
Dr. Pauline Dinnauer AuD

    Dr. Pauline Dinnauer AuD

    Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing , which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.