How to properly clean your ears – according to a doctor

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Around six percent of the population suffer from excessive earwax, typically the elderly and children. Having too much earwax can be distressing and cause pain or even deafness, so it’s important to avoid and even more important to treat it as soon as the problem pops up. Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out how to properly clean your ears.

Cotton buds were originally invented in the 1920s as a baby hygiene product.

A Polish-American inventor named Leo Gerstenzang came up with the product after he watched his wife attach cotton to the end of toothpicks and use the makeshift cotton bud to clean their baby’s ears.

Cotton buds, also known as cotton swabs or Q-tips, have since been used for a wide range of things such as touching up makeup or removing nail polish.

Nearly 90 percent of Brits use cotton buds to ‘remove’ wax from their ears, but the NHS and nearly all medical professionals will tell you this is not safe.

How to properly clean your ears

You shouldn’t be cleaning your ears at all, and especially not with a cotton bud.

Ear wax has a purpose and your body is supposed to get rid of excess wax without your involvement.

Dr Lee explained: “Earwax is a combination of sebum – an oily substance produced from sebaceous glands in the skin lining the ear canal – and dead skin cells which are sloughed off in this area.

“Earwax is helpful because, along with fine hairs in the ear, it helps prevent organisms like bacteria and viruses from invading the inner ear and causing infection.

“Ear wax is naturally shed from your ears without you realising.

“When you talk, eat and chew, your jaw muscles are gently nudging the wax along the canal, and it eventually falls out naturally.

“Small amounts are washed away when we shower or bath.”

What if I have excessive earwax?

Excessive earwax is more likely in people with narrow ear canals, very hairy ears, or in people who regularly use earphones or hearing devices.

If you have excessive ear wax, Dr Lee stresses how important it is you DON’T stick sharp objects inside your ears or attempt to flush the wax out with a water jet.

Both of these dangerous ‘hacks’ could perforate your eardrum.

If you have excessive ear wax, the best way to remove it is to use ear cleaning drops.

However, it’s best to talk to your doctor first to make sure your eardrum is not perforated and to check if you can use drops if you’ve had ear surgery.

If you’re able to use drops, Dr Lee recommends applying five drops to affected ears twice a day, for three to seven days.

The doctor said: “ You can use any of the following – olive oil, almond oil, baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate, docusate sodium, or carbamide peroxide. Your pharmacist can advise you.

“Over the next two weeks, things will probably improve. You may find a lump of wax on your pillow. If not, see your GP.

“Do not use ear candles – audiologists warn these have not been proven to be beneficial and have caused fires.”

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