5 Unexpected Reasons to Love Your Ear Wax

Picture of woman using a swab to clean her ears.

Ear wax isn’t a menace to society or proper hygiene. In fact, it’s your ears’ best friend. Digging it out with swabs or any other pointy foreign object is dangerous, can cause ear injuries and damage your hearing. So why do it? Your hearing care professional, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), the warning on your box of swabs and your grandma all agree: the only thing you should ever put into your ear canal is your elbow. Here’s 5 reasons to re-think your relationship to ear wax:

1. Your Ears are Already Cleaning Themselves

Cerumen, the technical term for ear wax, is what your ears already make to clean themselves. It’s built to snag stray dirt, dust and debris as it enters the ear canal so it doesn’t go any further and get stuck. As you go through your day, the mechanical process of chewing, talking and yawning actually ushers the used ear wax out of the ear canal and deposits it where you can just gently wipe it away during your regular shower.

You can actually reverse and upset this self-cleaning process if you use foreign objects like swabs, keys, chopsticks, pencils, fingers, etc. to dig out the ear wax. These bad ear cleaning habits actually force soiled ear wax further into the ear canal where it can become impacted and cause hearing loss, injury or infection.

2. Ear Wax Stops Bugs

While none of us would ever want to run across an ear wax flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans jellybean, the fact is, cerumen has all kinds of health properties that help keep your ears healthy. Ear wax has several health benefits aside from moving the dirt out of your ears. It protects your ears against viruses, fungal infections, bacteria, and even insects! It also moisturizes and conditions the skin inside of the ear canal, keeping it healthy and supple.

Cerumen is a fascinating recipe of long-chain fatty acids, cholesterol, alcohols, sebum, sloughed off skin cells, enzymes and other chemicals that are produced by special glands inside your ears. Your ears concoct this special recipe to keep your ears clean and infection free. In fact, average cerumen is slightly acidic—which inhibits fungal and bacterial growth. Yay ear wax!

3. Swab Ear Cleaning Causes Hearing Loss

You may already have sustained some level of hearing loss, just from the process of swab-based ear wax removal habits. This type of ear wax removal actually shoves soiled, old ear wax further down into the ear canal where it can become impacted and cause hearing loss. If you’ve been doing this for years, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional to have them check whether you have impacted ear wax that might be causing some amount of hearing loss.

On the other hand, some people do actually make excess ear wax, and some people make too little. Sometimes the chemical composition of the ear wax isn’t ideal—it may be too dry or too wet, making it hard for the cerumen to do its job correctly. Either way, it’s still a bad idea to use anything bigger than your elbow for ear wax removal. If you have any concerns about your ears’ cerumen production, again, please schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional.

Now, if you need to wear hearing aids, you do need to pay attention to ear wax buildup and proper ear cleaning because sometimes that can impact ear wax into the ear canal. But still—no swabs! That’s why it’s so important to follow your hearing care professional’s recommendations on gentle ear washing and regular cleaning of your hearing aids to keep the balance right and your hearing healthy.

4. Avoid Ear Cleaning Accidents by Teaching Your Family Proper Ear Care

Nearly 12,500 American children sustain ear cleaning injuries each year for which they need a doctor’s visit. Sometimes the well-meaning parents do it under the false impression that ear cleaning is as necessary as teeth brushing. But often the kids do it themselves. The most common of these injuries include tympanic membrane tears (torn ear drum) or other small cuts and lacerations inside the ear canal.

You may be asking, “But what about ear candling?” Well, thousands of people go to the doctor with “ear candling” injuries every year too. Touted as a “natural ear wax removal” technique, ear candling enthusiasts stick a hollow, cone-shaped candle into their ear canals and light it. Just stop. Here’s what you need to know about ear candling:

It’s been scientifically shown that ear candling is ineffective for ear cleaning and can actually make ear wax impaction worse.

  • It causes burn injuries to the face, ears, hair, etc. – even burns that go all the way to the ear drum and middle ear.
  • It’s also been known to puncture the ear drum.
  • So no ear candling for you!

5. This is How You Should Clean Your Ears Each Day

All you really need to do is gently dab your ears dry with a towel after your daily shower and hair washing routine. Normally, this is entirely sufficient for healthy ear cleaning. But if you have any concerns about your ear health, excess ear wax, impaction, ear injury or hearing loss, schedule an appointment with your hearing care professional today for appropriate care – and be a little more thankful for that hard-working cerumen!

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