Ear wax has gotten a bad rap. After all, it does have a purpose: to protect the skin in the ear canal and trap dirt before it reaches the eardrum. All the same, however, no one wants to have unsightly crumbs lining their ears. So people have come up with various techniques to keep the canal spotless. The intentions are good, say experts, but unfortunately, many of the methods don’t work very well.
The cotton swab–perhaps the most popular among ear cleaners–gets a thumbs down from many doctors.
The cotton swab reminds Harold Pillsbury III, MD, of the revolutionary war. “This fellow has a cannon, and he wants to ram a cannon ball in there so he gets this thing that looks just like a Q-Tip and uses it to knock the ball down to the bottom,” he says. “Most of the people with hearing loss due to ear wax come to me because they stuck a Q-Tip in their ear. They drove the ear wax down to the drum, and now they can’t get it out.”
Pillsbury is the chairman of the Division of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill. He says it’s best to stick to the old adage, “Never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear”–and that means things like bobby pins, paper clips, and tweezers should not be used to pull wax out. Using such small objects could puncture the eardrum.
Some people use a tiny spoon designed for wax removal. But even that is dangerous, says Pillsbury, who says it’s best to leave the ear cleaning to the experts.
If people insist on cleaning their ears at home, Pillsbury recommends a one-part glycerin, two-parts hydrogen peroxide solution that can be applied into the ear by using a dropper. The head should be positioned horizontally when applying the mixture, and a cotton ball should be placed lightly in the ear while the same procedure is repeated on the other side. The solution should then be washed out in the morning.
Some people put vinegar or olive oil in their ears, but those methods reportedly just sterilize the ear or loosen the wax, but don’t make anything come out. Carla Giannoni, MD, an otolaryngologist at the Texas Children’s Hospital, says drops of mineral oil in the ear canal once a week may help keep ear wax moist so it can be easily drained. She says it’s also fine to use, on roughly a monthly basis, the ear cleaning kits that are sold over the counter.
Both Giannoni and Pillsbury, however, do not recommend an ear cleaning technique called candling or coning. Candling involves putting a cone into the ear and lighting a candle at the end of the funnel. The smoke from the flame is supposed to spiral into the ear, hypothetically causing a vacuum effect that sucks out wax from the ear into the cone.
The benefits of this alternative medicine practice go beyond ear cleaning, says Valerie Kirkgaard, who runs an Internet-based business in California called The Coning Company. She says once the ear canal is cleared, smoke can travel from the ear into the eustachian tube, which is a passageway behind the eardrum.
“All the stuff that’s been floating around in the blood and hasn’t been able to escape the body is actually drawn out through the eustachian tube,” says Kirkgaard. “The benefit of getting that passageway open: your body can eliminate the toxins that it has been holding on and that can affect your emotional state or your hearing.”
Giannoni says she finds it hard to believe that coning works in the way proponents say it does. “It doesn’t really fit with the normal laws of nature in physics.”
Pillsbury, however, says the procedure is downright dangerous. “I’ve had a few people say that they’ve roasted their ear with that thing,” he says. “It’s a very bad idea.”
Kirkgaard challenges skeptics, however, to try candling before knocking it.
Anyone who is interested in cleaning their ears through the coning procedure, or through any other technique is urged to first talk with their doctor.
Article By: Dulce Zamora