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Cleaning your ears: How to do it right!

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  • What is earwax and how does it work?
  • Why are Q-tips or cotton swabs dangerous?
  • Why do I need Q-Tips anyway?
  • What home remedies can I use to clean my ears?
  • What should I definitely not do when cleaning my ears?
  • And what if your ear itches terribly again?
  • What to think about ear candles and electronic ear cleaners?
  • Who is ear cleaning particularly dangerous for?
  • When should I go to the ear doctor?

It’s part of your everyday bathroom routine: cleaning your ears briefly after showering. After all, it gives you a clean feeling and it’s really good to be able to drill around in your ear canal with a cotton swab in peace and quiet. Stop! Leave it. Really. Why? It can damage your hearing. And the ear has a built-in self-cleaning mechanism – you don’t actually have to do much.

What is earwax and how does it work?

Earwax is completely natural and absolutely necessary. Sebaceous glands in the ear canal produce earwax. This keeps your ear canal supple and protects against infections. The yellow-brownish and greasy body fluid is also there to remove dirt and dead cells from the ear canal – independently. As a result of chewing movements while eating, the earwax moves from the inner ear out through the ear canal, which is only 1.5 centimeters short. And as “fast” as your fingernails grow.

Why are Q-tips or cotton swabs dangerous?

If you push a cotton swab into your ear canal, you are counteracting your ear’s self-cleaning mechanism. Some ear wax remains on the cotton tip. But that is only a fraction. You stuff most of the earwax back into the inner ear. Problem: There is a small indentation in the ear canal just before the eardrum begins. “That’s where the earwax ultimately becomes stuck,” explains Dr. Adrian Münscher, chief physician for ENT medicine at the Marienklinik Hamburg. This can lead to constipation and hearing loss. Then only professional ear cleaning will help. So, Q-Tips simply have no place in the ear canal. Not even a little.

Why do I need Q-Tips anyway?

Our expert only gives the all-clear for their use in the ear in one case: if you only and carefully clean the ear cups with the cotton swabs.

What home remedies can I use to clean my ears?

If you still want to keep your ears clean, there are alternatives. For example these home remedies:

  • Saline solution: You can saline solutions (e.g. from Lenscare) or high quality oils like using almond oil. Both have the same goal: they soften the earwax. Simply drip 1 to 2 drops into your ear. Then leave it on for 10 minutes. After that, the earwax simply flows out. It is okay to use it once a month.
  • Steam bath: Earwax is water soluble. Tip: Create a steam bath in a pot. Also with a little chamomile, it has a calming effect. Hold your ear over the steam for a few minutes. The earwax now becomes liquid. Then wipe your eavesdroppers once with a damp washcloth.
  • Ear shower: The ear shower is available in the pharmacy, but you can also order it online here. The tool is usually made of rubber to prevent injury to the ear canal. Sometimes there is a solution included that helps soften earwax. Here’s how it works: Simply put warm water in the shower and carefully rinse your ear with it. The exact procedure is on the package insert. This is faster than a steam bath. But don’t overdo the rinsing.
  • Ear sprays: 1 to 2 sprays in each ear. Then tilt your head so that the liquid softens the earwax. But the spray is not without controversy. ENT doctors warn: If you already have too much earwax in your ear due to incorrect treatment with Q-tips, the spray can only soften the first layers of earwax. In such a case, ear spray does not solve the actual problem. This can even lead to adhesions and make the problem worse. Last resort: professional ear cleaning. You can get an ear spray here for just 10 euros.
  • Have a shower: Clean your ears while showering, but don’t spray the nozzle directly into your ear! This can lead to damage to the eardrum. Instead, just gently run some warm water in. Then dry your ear gently with a towel. Complete!

The health portal Cochrane evaluated 10 studies to find out which of the above methods can best help with a partially or completely blocked ear canal. The result: it could not It has been found that certain sprays or drops containing active ingredients work better than others or as pure water or a saline solution. This means that if in doubt, you have to try it out for yourself to see what works best for you.

What should I definitely not do when cleaning my ears?

Pens, nails, paper clips – stay away! Pointed and sharp objects have no place in the ear. After all, you’re basically rummaging around blindly in your ear with the devices. There is a good chance that you will injure your very sensitive ear canal skin. Scientific studies have shown that serious injuries to the ear canal cannot be ruled out. A small scratch is often enough. Then bacteria invade. Consequence: Inflammation can set in and lead to infections. “It’s super uncomfortable and painful,” warns expert Dr. Munscher.

And what if your ear itches terribly again?

Put a finger in your ear. It is thick enough that it only reaches the ear canal, but not into it. This means your ear canal remains unharmed. But keep your fingernails short! However: If your ear itches frequently, you should see an ear specialist. It may indicate inflammation.

What to think about ear candles and electronic ear cleaners?

These two products are always controversially discussed:

  • Ohrenkerzen: Hollow candles are made from beeswax. The heat development is intended to create a negative pressure. This is intended to suck the earwax out of the ear canal. The candles are often used in the wellness sector and in alternative medicine. Our expert doesn’t think much of candles for cleaning ears. The negative pressure is far too low to really get the earwax out. The US health authority even warns against using hollow candles: burns and eardrum injuries can occur from dripping candle wax.
  • Electronic ear cleaners: The small plastic devices are available from just 6 euros. You can buy some of them directly with different colored silicone attachments for the whole family. Similar to the hollow candle, the earwax is supposed to be sucked out using negative pressure. What does our expert say? Save yourself the money.

Who is ear cleaning particularly dangerous for?

There are actually 2 risk groups who should be particularly careful when cleaning their ears.

    • Water sports enthusiasts, such as (kite) surfers, divers or swimmers: These expose their ears to a so-called “cold stimulus” through the water. This stimulus can lead to excessive bone growth being stimulated, explains Dr. Munscher. Result: a narrowing of the ear canal. Such an exostosis makes it more difficult for the earwax to be removed on its own. In English it is also referred to as surfer’s ear because surfers are particularly often affected. The result: inflammation of the ear canal. In such a case, no washcloth will help. The ears must then be professionally cleaned.
    • Wearers of in-ear headphones and hearing aids: This allows you to push the earwax a little further into the ear canal each time you insert it. This hinders the body’s ability to transport itself. The same applies here: If there are changes in hearing, those affected should have their ears cleaned at an ENT practice.

When should I go to the ear doctor?

As soon as you have pain. Or if you suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Strong feeling of pressure
  • Change in your hearing performance. For example, if you only hear muffledly, as if you had cotton in your ear. Either you used the Q-tip incorrectly before. Or: It can also indicate sudden hearing loss.
  • Pain on the outside of the auricle. This could be a symptom of an ear infection.
  • Constant itching (with or without purulent discharge). Also an indication of ear canal inflammation.

You don’t need cotton swabs, pins, or candles to remove excess earwax. It is enough to clean the ear cup with a clean cloth or washcloth.

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