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Black man cleaning his ear

Why You Should Stop Using a Q-Tip to Clean Your Ears

We’re all guilty of it.

We get a feeling of fullness in our ears and reach for a Q-tip. But that moment of sweet relief could be doing your ears more harm than good.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAOHNS) recently updated its clinical guidelines to help clinicians identify patients who rely on this practice for dealing with earwax. If clinicians can educate patients about the proper way to clean their ears — without Q-tips — they can prevent buildup and possible issues with hearing.

Admittedly, ear wax is a nuisance, but it exists for a reason. The waxy substance prevents bacteria, dust and other foreign objects from entering the ear canal, reducing the likelihood of infection or blockages. About 10 percent of adults and the same percentage of children produce too much ear wax, according the AAOHNS, but even in these cases you shouldn’t reach for a Q-tip. Q-tips aren’t the most effective tool for cleaning your ears because they push earwax further down the ear canal, cause cuts in your ear and disturb hearing bones, which can lead to hearing loss and ear injuries.

The experts say cleaning your ears with a simple washcloth is enough. Using mineral oil, baby oil or over the counter drops also can reduce earwax buildup. If you’re still tempted to reach for a Q-tip, follow these tips for earwax prevention and proper cleaning:

  • Understand the signs and symptoms: You may have too much earwax if you begin to experience itching, hearing problems, fullness in your ear(s), discharge, ear pain or cough. If so, grab a washcloth or drops to soften and remove the earwax.
  • Leave it to the professionals: During a regular checkup, your primary care doctor can check your ears and use an ear syringe or other device to irrigate and remove the wax. You also may be referred to another provider for treatment.
  • No pain: If the methods you’re using to remove earwax cause ear pain, that’s a clear sign you should stop. Earwax removal shouldn’t hurt.
  • No schedule needed: You don’t need a regular schedule to clean your ears. The regular jaw motions we make when we chew and talk move earwax to the outer ear for easier removal.
  • Ear candles are a no-no: Q-tips aren’t the only things that harm your ears — you shouldn’t use ear candles, either. Why? Because they damage your eardrums and there’s no proof they actually work.
  • Put your medicine cabinet to good use: If you have rubbing alcohol drops or hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet, you can use these products to prevent earwax buildup. Simply place the drops in your ear. You’ll hear a bubbling sound when the solution comes in contact with the earwax, which indicates that it’s doing its job to soften the wax and make it easier to remove.

Follow these tips to keep your ears clean. Between applying medication and cleaning around your eyes and nostrils, there are so many other valuable uses of Q-tips — so keep them out of your ears.

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