Cotton buds, elbows and ears – oh my!

Your Mum always said you should never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow, right? So, why do you keep shoving cotton buds in deep enough to tickle the back of your own eyeball…?

The truth of it is we think we’re helping. We think we’re cleaning our ears. However, our ears have already got that covered. That’s what ear wax is. Wax is our ears’ own natural cleaner.

It starts life as a clear runny oil (cerumen) and migrates up the canal picking up everything the ear doesn’t need – dead skin; hair; dust; dirt; glitter (yep – found some of that the other day in a woman’s ear). As we chew and talk the movement of the temporomandibular joint (that joins the jaw to the skull) and the natural epithelial movement encourages the wax to move towards the outside.

When we very helpfully shove a cotton bud in the majority of the time we just push the wax further in. This impacts the wax and if we push really deep or there’s a lot of wax in there we can even manage to push the wax up against the ear drum effectively rendering it useless as it can no longer vibrate. Hello hearing loss!

We can also damage the delicate skin in the ear canal; damage or even perforate the ear drum and cotton bud tips DO come off in the ear

When they come off in the ear they need to be removed by yours truly or at your GP surgery.

‘Me? Use cotton buds? I don’t think so…’ said this man minutes before I fished a cotton bud tip out of his ear who had been complaining of unilateral hearing loss and discomfort. ‘oh, well there was just that one time…’.

What’s even better is that wax is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. So it really is the best stuff for your ear. The stuff that you do manage to fish out has been keeping your ear healthy.

So, what should you do about ear wax?

Well, to be honest for the most part just leave it alone. For most of us the wax migration process is so efficient that wax just falls out of our ear as a small, neat block probably during the night.

If you make excessive amounts of wax and your ear regularly blocks up then some sort of removal (by a professional) like micro suction is the safest way. Irrigation (syringing) is generally frowned upon now for being too aggressive and potentially damaging.

ANYONE can do wax removal…

A word in your ear…

Unfortunately, anyone can be trained to remove ear wax from your ear canal. Whilst most reputably run courses will only accept audiologists and nurses some will happily take anyone to complete a day long course; give them a few leads and a certificate and off they go! It is the opinion of The Auricle (me) that this is not ok. I wouldn’t want someone who normally cleans drains for a living to give me an enema* and neither would I want someone who’s only experience of the ear canal is using cotton buds to ‘clean’ their own ear to remove ear wax from mine.

(Soap box dismounted and dismantled).

Drops tend to just make a sticky, grim mess in the canal which is then very tricky to remove at all – at least until it’s dried out a bit, although as a temporary measure can provide some relief from hearing loss caused by impacted wax.

If the sight of wax at the entrance to the ear canal disgusts you (or your partner…) that much then when you’re in the shower use your finger in a flannel to gently go round the entrance.

Or better still use your elbow.

* The Auricle has never had an enema and is unlikely to do so in the near future. Just sayin’.

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