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How To Clean Your Ears Safely (And What You Should Use Instead Of Cotton Buds)

Be wary of earwax softeners and removal kits There are probably lots of earwax softeners and removal kits in your local drugstore, but Dr. Voigt says that you shouldn’t reach for them. These softeners, often made from mineral oil or glycerin, do soften the wax, but Dr. Voigt says that this might cause the wax to slide farther into your ear instead of out of it. Then, when the wax hardens again, it will cause a blockage that may not have been there before you started. In short: Don’t use these on your own, and consult your doctor before fiddling with your ears, the Mayo Clinic says.

Cleaning your ears incorrectly can cause serious complications We keep emphasising how bad it is to stick items in your ears because self-cleaning can increase earwax blockages. Blockages are irritating enough (and downright counterproductive), but a more serious potential complication of cleaning your ears incorrectly is a perforated eardrum. As we mentioned above, perforated or ruptured eardrums happen when you puncture or tear the tympanic membrane, that thin layer that separates your middle ear from your eardrum, the Mayo Clinic explains.

Typically, your eardrum can heal on its own, but sometimes it might require surgery to patch the tear, the Mayo Clinic explains. One great way to avoid a perforated eardrum is to skip sticking anything in your ears to try to clean them. We know that cotton swabs can feel good, and seeing the dirty cotton can make you feel like it’s all worth it. Trust us; it’s not.

Here’s when to see a doctor for ear-related concerns

If you’re experiencing symptoms like an earache, a feeling of pressure or fullness in one ear, ringing in the ear, dizziness, coughing, or problems hearing, you might be dealing with a blockage, the Mayo Clinic says. Contact your doctor instead of trying to handle it yourself. You may just require routine wax removal, but your doctor can screen you for other conditions that might cause similar symptoms (like an infection), the Mayo Clinic says.

You should also see your doctor if you’re dealing with symptoms of a perforated eardrum. If you’ve perforated your eardrum, you might feel a sharp pain that subsides quickly (like you’ve pierced something), the Mayo Clinic says. You could also find that your ear is leaking blood, pus, or mucus—plus, you might experience ringing in your ear and vertigo (which includes dizziness, a spinning sensation, and nausea or vomiting), the Mayo Clinic explains. A perforated eardrum can also result in hearing loss, and it can make you more vulnerable to ear infections, the Mayo Clinic says

This is what your doctor will do to clean your ears safely

If you think you have an earwax blockage, Dr. Voigt suggests going to an ear, nose, and throat doctor if you can, although a general practitioner can be a great place to start if you’re having trouble finding a specialist.

When you visit your doctor, they will examine your ears by using an otoscope, an instrument that lights and magnifies the inside of your ear, the Mayo Clinic says. If your doctor determines that you do have an earwax blockage, they’ll remove the wax with an instrument called a curette, or they might first use an earwax softener followed by gentle suction, the Merck Manual explains. “There are often pretty dramatic, immediate results,” Dr. Voigt says. “You might have immediate relief of the pressure,” he explains. “[You] can hear incredibly well.”

In most cases, the entire procedure can be done in a few minutes. Your ears will be clog-free, but Dr. Voigt says to be careful. Since earwax is your friend, you’ll need to be cautious now that the vast majority of the wax in your ear is gone. For instance, Dr. Voigt warns against getting water in your ear for a few days while your body builds up new wax. He also recommends turning down the volume on your car stereo, TV, phone speaker, earbuds, and any similar devices. People often turn the volume way up to compensate for their wax-induced diminished hearing, he says. Once your blockage is removed, you can probably tone things down a bit.

If you are dealing with excessive earwax production or frequent blockages, your doctor can prescribe you an earwax-removal medication to help manage the buildup, the Mayo Clinic says. Whatever you do, leave deep wax removal to the pros.

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