Believe it or not, there’s a statement on any package of cotton swabs for ear cleaning, that has a warning similar to the following one: “Caution: Do not enter the ear canal with this product. Penetrating the ear could lead to injury.”

This is not a joke, check the label on your cotton swabs at your home, or take a look the next time you’re planning to buy them. It may seem strange, but besides doctors, audiologists and hearing professionals, even the makers of the product think it’s a bad idea.

Here are some reasons why you should think again about cleaning your ears with cotton swabs:

  • Earwax is actually necessary – It’s not really “wax”, it’s a mixture consisting of dead skin cells and other substances like fatty acids, alcohol, cholesterol, squalene, and lysozyme (an antibacterial enzyme). Earwax is produced non-stop and provides different kinds of protection.It lubricates the ear canal and prevents dust, bacteria and other germs from penetrating inside. It can slow the growth of bacteria, trap dirt, protect the ear canal from becoming irritated by water and even serves as an insect repellent.
  • Using cotton swabs can cause damage – Most of us think that earwax should be removed as a part of hygiene measure. However, using these swabs is actually pushing much of the earwax towards the drum.This may rupture the eardrum or block the ear canal completely and cause temporary deafness. Traumatizing the canal so that it bleeds or hurts is another risk you might consider.
  • After all, it removes itself anyway – During the casual motions of the jaw like talking, eating and yawning, earwax is moved towards the external ear. So, simply take a washcloth and do some normal cleaning of the external ear.

Although cleaning is not recommended, accumulated earwax can result in a blocked ear canal, which may lead to a number of symptoms. If you experience any of the signs listed below, that may be a clue to have it removed:

  • Pain coming from your inner ear
  • Partial hearing loss, which worsens over time
  • The feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Itching
  • Ringing noises/tinnitus
  • Odor
  • Discharge

There are a couple of cleaning solutions to safely remove the earwax if you experience buildup or blockage. But if you still have the symptoms or they become even more severe, visit your doctor as soon as possible.

You can try mixing a teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water; a teaspoon and a half of olive oil or mix two teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide with a teaspoon of warm water, independently. These solutions soften the earwax it so that it will be easier to remove it.

The procedure is quite the same with each of them: suck a portion of the solution with a dropper, tilt your ear to one side and place five drops to the affected ear. Leave it on for five minutes and then tilt your head to the other side, to allow the salt water to naturally drain along with the ear wax.

Make sure you place some type of cloth or towel underneath your head to avoid a mess. Repeat this process a couple of times until the excess earwax is completely removed.