Most of us know what we should be doing to maintain our hearing health – avoid loud environments, wear hearing protection and turn down the volume on our personal listening devices. To encourage good ear health, we also need to keep them clean. But do you know that deciding if or when to clean certain areas of our ears (whether the ear canal or outer ear) can have just as much of an impact on our hearing as damaging noise levels?
Whether you’ve spoken with a hearing care provider or not, there are certain tips to follow when it comes to keeping your ears clean – and when to leave them alone.
Cleaning your ear canals
At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard a hearing healthcare professional warning people not to insert cotton swabs into their ears. This is still solid advice. There’s no need to clean the ear canals because earwax does it for you (and much more safely and effectively than a cotton swab). Earwax is the multi-purpose self-cleaning agent that keeps the ear canals lubricated, waterproofed, clean and even bacteria-free.
However, in a less-than-perfect world, you may need to clean the insides of your ears if earwax builds up and becomes painfully impacted, causes tinnitus, interferes with your hearing, or causes itching or discharge. But it’s still not time to use a cotton swab. If over-the-counter earwax softening drops or gentle irrigation don’t do the trick of removing extra earwax, you should contact a hearing health care profession for a safe, painless, in-office cleaning.
Cleaning your outer ear
The outer ears, on the other hand, are your responsibility to keep clean daily. Wash your outer ears with warm water, cloth and mild cleanser to remove dirt and oils, being careful not to insert fingers or objects into your ear canals. If you need to clean the outer opening of your ear canals, use a cloth or swab to wipe them in a circular motion. This movement goes with, instead of against, the natural movement of earwax so you’ll avoid impacting dirt and wax more deeply into the canals.
In summary, you shouldn’t need to clean the insides of your ears unless you have excess wax buildup that interferes with your health, but you can clean your outer ears daily. Follow these guidelines, visit a hearing healthcare professional with any concerns and you’ll maintain excellent ear health for years to come.