Earwax buildup? Don’t reach for the Q-tips

By Greg Hamilton • Published: March 8th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It should be a no-brainer that it’s not safe to stick things like paper clips or pens in your ear, but for those with diminished hearing or pain from earwax buildup, anything that might remove the gunk is fair game.

Now new guidelines from a physicians’ group warn against using those items, as well as cotton swabs, while offering safer and more effective remedies.

Impacted cerumen, known as earwax, is no small concern. About 12 million people in the U.S. annually seek medical help for the condition. Earwax is a naturally occurring substance that cleans, protects and lubricates the external ear canal. It normally drains with the help of jaw movement.

But when it builds up, it can lead to hearing loss, tinnitus and other problems. People with impacted earwax often use cotton swabs to clear it, but doctors warn that can make matters worse by shoving the earwax deeper into the ear canal.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology’s (oh-toe-lairen-gology) Head and Neck Surgery Foundation says flushing out the ear canal using a syringe or even an oral dental jet irrigator can do the trick. Just be sure to use warm water at low pressure and direct the water at the ear canal wall and not at the eardrum.

The report noted that patients given ear drops and a bulb syringe had outcomes and satisfaction comparable to those who were treated by a health care provider. A two-year follow-up showed the self-irrigation group had fewer return visits related to earwax buildup than did the professionally irrigated group.

So the next time earwaxs builds up, try using some gentle, warm water to flush out the offending sticky stuff. And leave the paper clips and pens in the desk drawer.