Q-tip cleaning can become counterproductive by pushing wax further in.
As good as it feels, cleaning your inner ears with a Q-tip is just not the healthiest idea. Earwax, officially known as cerumen, is there for a reason: namely, to keep your skin moisturized and block out infections, says Ana Kim, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Columbia Doctors and associate professor of otolaryngology at Columbia University Medical Center.
If anything, Q-tip cleaning can become counterproductive by pushing wax further in, says Mercy Medical Center otolaryngologist Ileana Showalter, M.D. This can cause hearing loss, as can the eardrum punctures that may result from Q-tip use.
And since the skin in your ear canal is delicate, Q-tips can break it easily, creating openings for bacteria to enter, says Dr. Kim. The result? A greater possibility for infection. In fact, you should avoid putting anything inside your ear.
So, then how do you keep your ears clean? The same way you clean the rest of your body: with a gentle washcloth on the outside. You don’t have to clean the inside at all, since debris falls out on its own.
“Nature made the ear a self-cleansing surface,” says Dr.Kim. If you must use Q-tips, stick to the outer ear, which is less easily damaged. That can help remove external debris or buildup.
The only exception to this rule is when your earwax is creating hearing loss, clogging, or yellow or brown discharge, says Dr. Kim. Still, that's not an excuse to bring out the Q-tips. If you want to get rid of the earwax at home, you can try a DIY removal, like with an over-the-counter solution like Debrox , says Dr. Showalter. You put this into your ear with a dropper to soften the wax, and then you clear it out with warm water using a syringe.
Still, if you are noticing hearing issues related to earwax or seeing any kinds of discharge, you really should see your doctor. The safest way to unblock your ears is by leaving it to the pros, says Dr. Kim. If the wax is soft, they might remove it through suction, or if it's hard, they might use a cerumen curette to get in there and pull it out. Either way, they'll visually magnify the ear to make sure they clear everything out of there without damaging it.