The Truth About Ear Wax and How to Properly Clean Your Ears

Earwax may sound like a gross topic, but understanding how it works is important for maintaining proper hearing health. Here's everything you need to know.


What does earwax look like?

Earwax, also known as cerumen, can look a few different ways - it could be firm and solid or dry and flaky or almost liquid. This can vary from person to person. It tends to be a yellowish color.

What is the purpose of earwax?

Earwax is between 20 - 50% adipose tissue. It coats the skin of the ear canal and acts as a moisturizer, water repellent, infection fighter and general protector against dust, dirt and germs from getting into the ear. Earwax is produced about one third of the way into your ear canal and it slowly makes its way out of the ear, taking with it anything that shouldn’t be in the ear, including dead skin and hair cells.

How do I know if I have too much earwax?

Believe it or not, most of us clean earwax from our ears much too often. In so doing, we remove a protective layer that helps keep our ear canals healthy and clean.
On the other hand, excessive earwax can lead to a variety of different symptoms, including:
  • Hearing problems / hearing loss
  • Ear infection
  • A plugged sensation in the ear
  • Tinnitus – ringing in the ears
  • Itching

Are cotton swabs or Q-tips unsafe?

Did your mother ever tell you not to put things in your ears? She was right! You should never stick anything in your ears, even to clean them! Do not stick cotton swabs (or any other foreign objects) into your ears as you will risk damaging the very delicate ear drum or the ear canal itself. You may also be pushing more earwax back into the ear than you’ll be removing. Counter-intuitively, what's known as an "impaction" usually occurs after people attempt to use Q-tips or stick something in their ear to remove earwax.

What's the best way to remove earwax?

Not only should you avoid Q-tips/cotton swabs, but you'll also want to avoid "ear candling" or similar such methods for cleaning your ears.
Regular bathing should take care of most ear cleaning. To clean your ears safely, use a cloth to wipe only the outside area of the ear. Avoid sticking anything into your ear canal. If you feel that you may have excessive amounts of earwax, visit your doctor for a proper examination. If you have excessive earwax build up, your doctor can safely remove it for you.

Earwax and your hearing aids

When people remove their hearing aids, the devices might have earwax on them. Beltone hearing aids are designed to wick away sweat and earwax to help keep them clean.  However, there will still be times earwax can interfere with your hearing aids.
Because of the potential for earwax clogs, hearing aid cleaning should be an important part of a daily care regimen.  For those who wear hearing aids or frequently use earplugs — or anyone who does experience excess wax build-up — you can come to a Beltone location nearest you and we can help clean your hearing aid.

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