You should almost never clean out the wax in your ears — here’s why
Wax? In most people, earwax doesn’t actually need to be removed.
Earwax helps keep the ears healthy, and old wax is cleaned out automatically.
But there are some exceptions, and some people might need a doctor’s help to remove excessive earwax.
Earwax can feel a lot like the stuff inside pimples: It’s gross, and cleaning it out feels satisfying. Heck, even watching other people’s earwax get cleaned out feels satisfying.
So you might be surprised to learn that earwax serves an important purpose — and doctors say that most of us should not be trying to remove it at all. This is the official decree of the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), which released official earwax guidelines earlier this year.
The guidelines make it very clear : “Earwax that does not cause symptoms or block the ear canal should be left alone.” No ear candling. No syringes full of water. And especially no Q-tips.
As earwax removal extraordinaire Dr. Mark Vaughan told INSIDER in August, Q-tips are too big and too blunt to actually scoop out wax from your ears. “All you can do is push [wax] in,” he said.
Besides, as the guidelines explain, earwax is there for a reason. It helps to trap dirt and dust, preventing them from traveling further into the ear. It also cleans itself: Chewing, jaw motion, and the growth of new skin continuously push old wax out of the ear canal. Then it just flakes off or falls away in the shower. It’s a natural process that helps keep your ears healthy, and there’s no good reason to mess with it.
Of course, there are exceptions. The AAO says that in about 10% of kids, 5% of adults, and a third of older people, this self-cleaning process can fail, leading to an overgrowth of earwax. In some cases, wax can block the ear canal entirely.
The guidelines say that if you have symptoms of earwax blockage, including ear pain, itching, ringing or a feeling of ear fullness, hearing loss, ear discharge or odor, or coughing, you should ask a doctor to take a look. Medical professionals can remove earwax safely and effectively, when it’s necessary.
But most of us should retire that box of cotton swabs for good.