The reason you don't want to stick that cotton swab in your ear is that the eardrum and the little bones of the middle ear—called ossicles—are easy to damage and may even require surgery to fix explains Boris Chernobilsky, MD, assistant clinical professor of otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "In the worst case scenario, damage to the ossicles can result in a leak of fluid from the inner ear," he says. "This would result in severe vertigo and potentially a permanent hearing loss."
Also, the skin of the ear canal is ultra-thin, and easily injured by just about anything you put in there. "If skin is broken, it can get infected and lead to a painful external ear infection—swimmer's ear, in lay terms," Dr. Chernobilsky adds.
Here is a list of other things you really should not be doing when it comes to trying to clean your ears.
Attempting to clean regularlySurprisingly, ears are actually "self-cleaning". Dr. Chernobilsky explains. "It is the only part of the body in which the skin grows in a direction, and brings the wax and skin debris out from the canal to the outer ear." Our normal daily activities like talking, chewing and swallowing will help draw the earwax out. "It's a natural skin lotion," Dr. Chernobilsky says. "Cerumen also has properties which kill certain types of bacteria and prevent the growth of fungus." It's a good idea to let the earwax loosen on its own, or if you have to clean, use a damp washcloth and work around the outside of the ear.
Inserting any pointy objectsThis may seem a bit obvious, but many people still resort this to clean out their ears. Doing this to clean out earwax is one sure fire way to damage the skin inside your ear or doing something even worse to your eardrum. Stay away from doing this at all.
CandlingThis odd practice has been practiced by people for years. It works by putting a hollow, cone-shaped candle in your ear. The way it clears out your ears is the heat of the flame supposedly creates a vacuum effect which pulls out the wax from your ear. Research, however states otherwise. Having fire or hot wax anywhere near your face or hair is also another good reason not to do this trick.
Rinsing with a syringe"While this method is generally safe if done right, you are doing it blindly, and you can get a swimmer's ear if the ear isn't dried properly when you are done," Dr. Chernobilsky says. This one, if done incorrectly, can worsen the situation. Voluntarily inserting more moisture in your ears can provide for more discomfort.
With all these rules on what NOT to do, you must be asking yourself, "well, what can I do to clean my ears?". Well, when it comes to earwax: Don't worry about it.
But certain people may accumulate wax faster, Dr. Chernobilsky explains. "These are the people that use hearing aids with in-the-ear molds, doctors that use stethoscopes, musicians that use ear plugs, or people that use ear buds to listen to music, to name a few." If your wax buildup really bothers you, visit your primary care provider or an otolaryngologist every few months to have your ears cleaned out.
Another trick you can try between doctor visits: Tilt your head to the side and put a few drops of mineral oil in the ear. "I prefer mineral oil to baby oil since it is inert and does not have any fragrances that people with allergies or sensitive skin may react to," says Dr. Chernobilsky. Then lay your head on a towel-covered pillow for a few minutes, and the wax should slip out.
However, he cautions, this isn't a solution for a major wax impaction. For that, you still need an MD. So please, resist the urge to poke or prod inside your ear, no matter how much you feel you need to remove the earwax.