Everyone knows it, but no one admits it: we shouldn’t put cotton balls in our ears. What are the risks? Are there really effective and equally satisfying alternatives? To find out, The New York Times called some expert doctors.
Dr. Alexandra Quimby suggests that the hardest part of successfully getting rid of these little messes is realizing that earwax isn’t the enemy. This distinctly unsavory substance is made up of oily secretions, sweat and dead skin cells. Don’t you want to get rid of it? Earwax isn’t actually there by chance, and it’s an excellent shield. It protects the inner ear by trapping all the unwanted things like dirt, dust, bacteria and fungus besides regulating humidity. By moving your jaw when you speak or chew, earwax is naturally expelled into your outer ear.
Dr. Hae-ok Ana Kim, who specializes in treating inner ear disorders, explains that there are two main risks when trying to remove earwax with a cotton bud.
First, the substance cleans up a little. Instead, it pushes earwax deeper into your ear canal, where it can build up. These lumps may itch, ache, or even cause dizziness. At a certain stage, it can also negatively affect the ability to hear.
Additionally, cotton balls are not only harmful and dangerous in the long term, they can also be harmful in the short term. Dr Hae-ok Ana Kim suggests that you run the risk of irritating the very delicate skin of your inner ear, and therefore accidents. Dr. Seth Schwartz, also specializing in ear care, adds that stories of eardrums ruptured by these tiny vessels are very real, though rare.
Experts interviewed are unanimous: the best way to keep your ears clean and healthy is to leave your earwax alone. However, if this challenge really seems insurmountable for you, there are solutions.
First, the most artisanal of them all: the wet cloth, recommended by Dr Quimby. By gently cleaning the outside of your ear as you would any other part of the body, you ensure that you only remove the necessary amount of earwax without damaging anything.
Dr. Schwartz recommends trying ear drops to help your ears with their natural self-cleaning process. Available over the counter, these drops are especially useful for people who have dry earwax and can remove it more easily by moisturizing it.
Experts agree that, like cotton balls, you should completely avoid unusual items that, in your eyes, might do the trick. Neither a paper clip nor a small curette is a good solution for cleaning your ears. Doctors also advise against using ear candles, which are placed in the ear and then lit. “Besides being effective, these candles are dangerous” Because they present an obvious risk of burns, Dr. Schwartz explains.