Ear wax dos and don’ts


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) – Do your ears feel blocked up? Excess wax can accumulate sometimes and make hearing difficult. At the same time, you’ve probably read that using cotton swabs isn’t a safe way to remove the wax. Here are some tips on how to safely clean your ears, what not to do, and when you should see your doctor.

Symptoms of impaction

Earwax, or cerumen, is a self-cleaning agent produced your body produces. It collects dirt, bacteria, and other debris. Usually, the wax works its way out of the ears naturally through chewing and other jaw motions.

Many people never need to clean their ears. Sometimes, though, wax can build up and affect your hearing. When earwax reaches this level, it’s called impaction.

If you have impaction, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Aching in the affected ear
  • Fullness or ringing in the ear
  • Impaired hearing in the affected ear
  • An odor coming from the affected ear
  • Dizziness
  • A cough

You may be more likely to develop excess wax if your use hearing aids or ear plugs. Older adults and people with developmental disabilities are also at higher risk. Your ear canal’s shape may make the natural removal of wax difficult.

Best practices

The safest way to remove wax buildup from your ears is to visit your doctor. At your appointment, your doctor can use special instruments, like a cerumen spoon, forceps, or suction device, to clear the blockage. Many offices also offer professional irrigation.

If you choose to try to remove wax at home, the following are the safest methods to try on your own:

Damp cloth

Cotton swabs may push wax deeper into the ear canal. Use cotton swabs only on the outside of your ear or, better yet, try wiping the area with a warm, damp washcloth.

Earwax softener

Many pharmacies sell over-the-counter eardrops that soften wax. These drops are typically a solution. They may contain:

  • Mineral oil
  • Baby oil
  • Glycerin
  • Peroxide
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Saline

Place the specified number of drops into your ear, wait a certain amount of time, and then drain or rinse out your ear. Always follow the instructions on the package. Call your doctor if your symptoms continue after treatment.

Learn more: How to use ear drops »


You may also choose to irrigate your ears using a syringe. In this process, you’ll gently rinse out the ear canal using water or a saline solution. This method is often more effective if you first use some type of wax softener 15 to 30 minutes before irrigating. It’s best to warm the solution to your body temperature to avoid dizziness.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

About Pamela Keenan

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