We have all done this. Most Americans swab their ears with cotton swabs as part of their regular morning routine. But did you know there’s nothing unhygienic about earwax and experts actually warn against using swabs in your ear canal.
What Is Ear Wax
Earwax is produced by glands in your ear canal for a reason, and meant to be in your ears. It’s known as cerumen, and mostly made up of dead skin cells, and other substances. It aids in the ears’ self-cleaning process, providing protection, lubrication, and antibacterial properties. The American Hearing Research Foundation states that too little ear wax increases the risk of infection.
Benefits of Ear Wax
If you have too little earwax in your ear canal, your ears may feel dry and itchy, but the right amount of earwax helps prevent dust, bacteria, and other germs from entering and damaging your ear. It traps dirt and slows the growth of bacteria while protecting the skin of your ear canal from becoming irritated by water.
The Ear Are Self Cleaning
Your ears should have a healthy amount of earwax, as they’re a self-cleaning part of the body. Excess earwax should move out of your ear canal automatically, as these cells actually migrate naturally. The removal of earwax is also helped by the movements of the jaw by talking, chewing, yawning, etc. Once it reaches the outer ear it will simply fall out or be removed when you shower or bathe.
Earwax Buildup Is Often a Sign of Omega-3 Deficiency
While most people’s ears are self-cleaning, there are some who seem to have trouble with excess wax buildup. If this applies to you, you may want to regularly soften and remove your earwax using peroxide, which is detailed below. However, you will also want to be sure to increase your omega-3 fats intake, as excess buildup of earwax has been traced back to an omega-3 deficiency. Eat more high-quality animal-based dietary sources like sardines, anchovies, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, along with flaxseeds and walnuts.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Swabs in The Ears
The American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation states that under ideal circumstances the ear canals should never have to be cleaned. Many people mistakenly believe that earwax should be routinely removed for personal hygiene, but this isn’t so.
Actually, attempting to remove earwax with cotton swabs, or other probing devices like bobby pins, can result in damage to the ear, including trauma, impaction of the earwax, or temporary deafness. These objects can push the wax in deeper, and can block the ear canal.
For most, earwax is only produced in the outer third of the canal, and you risk pushing the earwax deeper into the ear canal, near the eardrum with cotton swabs.
When people have a wax blockage against the eardrum, it is often because of probing the ear with cotton swabs, or other objects that only push the wax in deeper. When this happens, it can bring fungus, bacteria, and viruses from the outer ear into the inner ear, increasing the risk of infection, along with causing hearing loss, or even cause a ruptured eardrum.
This routine can also cause a vicious cycle, as the more you rub the inner ear with cotton swabs, the more histamine is released, which makes your skin irritated and inflamed. This can cause additional dryness and irritation that makes you want to insert a cotton swab again.
There’s even research showing earwax impaction may alter cognitive function in the elderly via its affect on hearing. In one study, when impacted earwax was removed hearing improved significantly, as did the participants’ cognitive function.
Better Ways To Clean The Ears
Most people do not need to clean their ears regularly, but the following symptoms may indicate you have an excess of earwax buildup that may need some attention.
- Noticeable Wax Accumulation/Discharge from Ears
- Foul Odor in The Ears
- Frequent Earaches
- Ringing in The Ears
- A Feeling That Ears are Plugged
- Partial Hearing Loss
- Severe Itching In The Ears
In most of these cases, you can clear earwax blockages at home. The simplest way to do this is to first soften the wax by placing a few drops of olive oil or coconut oil in your ear. Then, pour a cap full of 3% hydrogen peroxide in each ear to flush the wax out.
You will hear some bubbling, which is completely normal, and possibly feel a slight stinging sensation. Wait until the bubbling and stinging subside, around 5 to 10 minutes, then drain onto a tissue and repeat with the other ear.
Once you’ve cleared out any excess buildup or impaction, and are getting sufficient amounts of omega-3s, you will normally prevent a recurrence.