Have you ever wondered whether you should clean your ears at all?

It may seem odd, but healthy ears indeed accumulate earwax, causing discomfort to some people who, in response, endeavor to clean their ears thoroughly. However, this might not be the best approach. Earwax, technically known as cerumen, plays an essential role in protecting the ear canal and inner ear from drying out and from water penetration. It acts as a great lubricant, creating an acidic environment that inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi. It also guards against dust, insects, and assists in removing dead cells from the ear.

Typically, only about 10-20 grams of cerumen is produced per month. The natural movements of chewing and talking help shift the wax towards the outer part of the ear, implying that the ear canal doesn’t generally require additional cleaning.

Expert Advice from Dr. Cliff Olson

Dr. Cliff Olson, an experienced audiologist and founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Anthem, Arizona, offers some insightful advice on how to naturally unclog your ears. Ears can become plugged due to various reasons such as changes in elevation, a cold, or a sinus infection. This uncomfortable sensation is often caused by the Eustachian tube failing to equalize air pressure in the middle ear. Here are five natural methods recommended by Dr. Olson to alleviate this issue:

  • Valsalva Maneuver: This simple technique involves plugging your nose and attempting to blow air out of it. While it may feel a bit strange at first, the Valsalva maneuver can be highly effective in opening up the Eustachian tube, allowing air to pass through to the middle ear and equalize pressure. It’s a quick and easy method that can be done anywhere, anytime you feel your ears are clogged.
  • Lowry Method: A step up from the Valsalva maneuver, the Lowry method combines the nose-blowing action with swallowing. This dual action can be more effective in opening the Eustachian tube and relieving the sensation of clogged ears. It might take a bit of practice to coordinate the two actions, but once mastered, the Lowry method can be a powerful tool in your ear health arsenal.
  • Yawning: It might sound too simple to be true, but yawning can be a great way to open the Eustachian tubes. The act of yawning naturally encourages air to pass through the Eustachian tube, helping to equalize pressure in the middle ear. So, next time you feel your ears are clogged, try a big yawn. It’s a natural, easy, and non-invasive way to help unclog your ears.
  • Blowing Air Through the Nose: This method involves having someone blow air into your nose while you swallow. While this can be effective in pushing air through the Eustachian tube, it should be approached with caution as it can be potentially dangerous if not done correctly. It’s also not the most pleasant or convenient method, so it’s best used as a last resort.
  • Using the Eustachi: The Eustachi is a specially designed tool that gently pushes air through your nostril while you swallow. This method is safer and more controlled than having someone blow air into your nose. The Eustachi can be particularly useful for those with stubbornly clogged ears, providing a gentle and effective way to unclog the Eustachian tubes.

If these natural methods don’t provide relief, it’s possible that the clogged ears could be due to earwax or a middle ear issue. This could happen if there’s an overproduction of earwax, possibly due to skin diseases or infections of the ear canal. More often than not, it’s caused by the irritation from the frequent use of cotton swabs or other objects for mechanical cleaning. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to clean your ears correctly, keep a close eye on your condition, and consult an otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist, if the problem persists.

When there’s an excess buildup of earwax, it can block the ear canal, forming what we call an earwax plug or impaction. This is more common in children, older adults, and those with a narrow ear canal. As long as the ear canal is partially free, there are usually no symptoms. However, when water enters the ear, the earwax can swell, leading to hearing loss, a feeling of ear fullness, and headaches. Earwax plugs need to be removed.

How should you clean healthy ears without earwax plugs?

ENT specialists recommend cleaning your ears in the shower or while washing your hair. Simply wiping the outer ear with a wet finger is usually sufficient. Afterwards, tilt your head to let any excess water drain out and pat your ears dry with a towel.

Once a week, you may use a cotton pad or ball, moistened with water, a mild antiseptic solution like Miramistin, or a hydrogen peroxide solution. You should wipe only as deep as your pinky finger can reach, which is approximately 1 cm into the ear canal. It’s advisable to avoid using various oils, boric alcohol, and ear candles.

Understanding and practicing proper ear hygiene can help prevent common ear problems and ensure your auditory health. However, if you experience continuous discomfort or pain, you should promptly consult a healthcare professional.

NYU Otologist Dr. Erich Voigt has some important advice when it comes to ear hygiene. Contrary to popular belief, he advises against using Q-tips for cleaning your ears. This common practice can actually push wax further into the ear canal, disrupting the natural flow of wax from the inside out and causing blockages. Instead, Dr. Voigt recommends a gentler approach. During your regular shower routine, simply wash your ears with soap and water. Afterward, use a towel to gently remove any wax on the outer part of the ear. This method ensures that the ear canal is not disturbed, preventing the build-up and densification of wax. However, if you find that there is wax stuck inside your ear, it’s best to seek medical attention.

The Right Way to Clean Your Ears When Suspecting an Earwax Plug

If you feel like your ear canal is heavily blocked, it’s best to consult an otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT specialist. However, if you’re confident that it’s just a minor plug, you can attempt to remove it at home. Chewing vigorously can sometimes dislodge earwax, but if that doesn’t work, you might want to try the following home remedies:

  • 3% hydrogen peroxide;
  • almond, olive, camphor, or vaseline oil;
  • glycerin.

Start by lying on your side, so the affected ear faces upwards. Put 2-3 drops of the room-temperature remedy into your ear, wait a few minutes, then tilt your head so the liquid drains out. Repeat this procedure twice a day until the plug comes out, which might take up to two weeks. Remember to be cautious, and if the plug doesn’t dislodge, seek help from an otolaryngologist.

William H. Shapiro, an audiologist and a clinical associate professor at the NYU Langone Medical Center, once said, “The ear is a self-cleaning organ,” which provides some insight into what should and shouldn’t be done while cleaning your ears.

What exactly shouldn’t you use to clean your ears?

Ears are not designed to have objects inserted into them. Hence, doctors recommend avoiding cleaning with:

  • Cotton swabs: They can push the wax deeper, contributing to the formation of an earwax plug. According to otolaryngologist Yulia Gagin, there’s also a risk of leaving cotton residue inside or damaging the eardrum.
  • Sharp objects: Paperclips, matchsticks, or similar tools can injure the eardrum or the ear canal. These objects might also carry microorganisms that can enter the wounds and cause an infection.

When to See a Doctor?

Ear problems may seem minor at first, but they can quickly escalate if not addressed properly. Do you know when to seek professional help?

You should consult an otolaryngologist (ENT) immediately if, during or after ear cleaning, you experience sharp pain, ringing in the ears, dizziness, hearing loss, or discharge that is clear or bloody. These could be signs of a ruptured eardrum.

Additionally, medical help is necessary if you have an earache accompanied by fever and symptoms of a cold. These could be signs of otitis, an inflammation of the ear. If left untreated, otitis can result in hearing loss.

World Health Organization states, “Around 60% of hearing loss in children under 15 years old is due to preventable causes.” This includes untreated otitis, underscoring the importance of timely medical intervention.

What should you expect from the doctor’s visit?

The otolaryngologist will ask about your symptoms, examine both ears, and if necessary, prescribe treatment. If the issue is simply an earwax plug, the doctor will swiftly and safely remove it during the appointment using one of the following methods:

  • Ear Irrigation: This involves flushing out the ear with a physiological solution using a large syringe, letting the liquid drain into a tray. This is repeated until all impurities are removed.
  • Mechanical Removal: Using tweezers or a curette, which is a spoon-shaped tool with serrated edges, the doctor can extract the earwax plug or foreign body.
    Aspiration: An electric suction device, functioning like a mini vacuum, is used to literally suck the plug out of the ear.
  • Softening the Plug: The doctor may prescribe special ear drops to soften the earwax. These are applied to the ear canal and left in place for several minutes. With regular use, the plug gradually softens and dislodges. These drops are often prescribed for individuals who frequently experience ear canal blockages.

Your ears are crucial sensory organs, and they deserve the best care. Understand when it’s time to seek professional help, and don’t hesitate to do so. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this wisdom applies to your ear health too.


The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. The content presented on this website should be considered solely as opinions and personal experiences. Read more

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