Stop Swabbing! How Earwax Protects Your Ears

Just as the human body was made to heal itself, it was also made with mechanisms for protecting itself from outside contaminants. For example, when dust and dirt are blown into your eyes, they produce water or tears with which to wash out the intruder. Contaminants leave the body through mucus secretions, sweat, waste products, and exhalation.

Experts tell us the ears have their own cleaning system. Glands in the outer ear canal produce fats and other matters. These ensure the skin making up the ear canal is soft and gives it a layer of protection. The acidic protective layer repels the bacteria and fungi at the root of ear infections.

Is This What Earwax Is Made Of?

Yes. These secretions then form ear wax along with dead skin cells being shed and particles of dust. It’s an oily substance that’s pushed outward toward the outer ear by jaw movement when we eat, yawn, or speak. This movement helps our ears to remain clean.

What’s Ear Wax Good For?

Other than keeping the ear canal clean, professionals say ear wax enjoys several properties. One is that insects buzzing around the ears find the waxy substance smelly, and they’ll fly away. Another good thing about ear wax is that it’s antimicrobial, which means that the substance protects against viral infections as well as the bacteria and fungi mentioned above.

Do We Ever Stop Producing Ear Wax?

As we age, the glands inside the ear canal begin to shrink and secrete less matter. The ear wax is drier, while the dead skin cells keep falling into the canal. The canal can’t clean itself as well as it did in youth. We produce less earwax or cerumen (the technical name for ear wax.)

What Happens If You Make Too Much Ear Wax?

A considerable amount of earwax combined with dead skin cells can build up in the canal. Other things that can cause a wax buildup include wearing earbuds and hearing aids. The wax has nowhere to go, so it remains in the canal and grows into a blockage.

Research has shown this can affect your hearing. For example, everyone knows how quiet a whisper is. Not many know that ordinary conversation is figured at 20 decibels. Having a buildup of earwax removed by a doctor improves hearing by ten decibels.

What About Cleaning Out The Ear Wax?

Each of us produces our own personal amount of earwax. Just as contaminants exit the body through blowing the nose or eliminating them in the bathroom, cleaning away ear wax isn’t necessary. You’ve just read how the ear cleans itself. Now let’s discuss the proper way to remove the wax from the outer ear.

Put Down The Swab

All our lives, we’ve heard parents and doctors tell us to put nothing smaller than our elbow in our ears. There’s a reason for that. Pushing the ear wax back into the ear canal obstructs more ear wax from exiting the ear. Putting small things like pencils, chopsticks, bobby pins, or swabs into the canal can damage the eardrum.

All that’s necessary is to get into the shower. Take a washcloth around a finger and gently wash the ear. It will dry when you get out of the shower. If water gets into your ears as you wash your hair, just tilt your head to allow the water to drain out. It truly is that simple.

Commercial ear wax cleaning preparations can damage the delicate lining in the ears. The harsh chemicals can prevent the ear’s natural defenses from working. This would leave the ear dry, itchy, and unable to protect itself. A little water is all that’s necessary to clean the outer ear.

Methods of Removing Considerable Amounts Of Earwax

Many of us remember our grandmothers using a teaspoon of olive oil (formerly called sweet oil) or almond oil. She would then flick a lighter beneath the teaspoon to gently warm the oil. This was dripped into the affected ear, where it would soften the ear wax. The wax would then drain out the ear canal.

This method still works today. However, if it doesn’t work, a doctor can irrigate the ear using special syringes or suction tools. We wouldn’t suggest syringes or suction if the eardrum has been damaged or if you’ve recently had ear surgery.

When Should A Doctor Be Consulted?

If you have certain symptoms and/or experience pain, experts might refer you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat or ENT specialist. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Earache
  • A sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Ringing (tinnitus) or noise in the ear
  • You can’t hear out of that ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Dr. Ran Rubinstien, allergy doctor of Hudson Valley, states some of these could be symptoms of another problem with ears that only an ENT will be able to diagnose. While ear wax buildups can cause problems, a problem in the inner or middle ear could be the culprit. Consult an ENT immediately.


Using cotton swabs to clean the outer ears isn’t necessary. Just washing the ear wax off in the shower is all that’s required. Using anything else in your ears could cause damage to the eardrum.

Think of all the money you’ll save not buying swabs or chemical cleansers for ear wax. Think how much healthier your ears will be when they can do their job unimpeded. Don’t you feel a lot better now?

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