Important Ear Cleaning Questions Answered

For generations, mothers have been reminding children to wash behind their ears at bath time. It is jokingly said to children that their ears are so dirty, potatoes could grow in there! Unfortunately, this early training can cause misconceptions and over-cleaning of the ears. Over-cleaning can be a problem for the health of the ear, affecting hearing, and creating skin conditions of the ear.

Why We Clean Our Ears

Dirty ears are unsightly and convey to others that you do not care about your appearance or health. If not kept clean, dirty ears can lead to outer, middle, and possibly even inner ear infections. Ear conditions such as fungal infections can occur, or be made worse, from a lack of ear cleaning as well. Ears need exfoliation like any other skin, especially as we age. An appropriately cleaned ear is a healthy ear.

Who Should Perform Ear Cleaning

Most ear cleaning is on the outer ear and can be done without a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. Sometimes a family member is needed to assist in ear cleaning. Very young children need to be monitored or aided when cleaning their own ears. The elderly may require help cleaning their ears because they cannot see well enough or may even experience limitations in mobility. If there is an infection or cause for concern, a medical professional should be consulted.

When to Conduct Ear Cleaning

The best time to conduct ear cleaning on yourself or your child is after a bath or shower, usually once daily. The skin will be moist and the pores open. Steam from a shower may have loosened old wax and wiggled it forward into the outer ear. Another excellent time to clean the ears is after swimming to be sure any organisms and excess water are removed. If there are issues with wax, a doctor or nurse may want to conduct ear cleaning on a regular interval.

Ear Cleaning Challenges with Kids

Young children may refuse, do a poor job, or may physically resist adult attempts to help them clean their ears. Very small ears may be difficult for adults to clean as their fingers are so much bigger than the child’s ears. Cotton swabs are not recommended for children either. Wriggling children are very much at risk of injury even if you are not planning on putting the swab in the ear canal. Special care may have to be taken for children with tubes in their ears, or those with hearing aids, so consult your child’s doctor.

Dangers of Ear Cleaning

Overzealous cleaning can throw off the delicate balance of the ear and cause infection, dry skin, and inhibit natural ear wax production and removal. However, the greatest danger in ear cleaning is damage to the inner ear canal. Cotton swabs - a common brand being Q-tips - are commonly used implements for cleaning ears and attempting to remove wax. People underestimate the potential hazards these little sticks with cotton can cause. Many times the cotton swabs or long sharp items have been improperly inserted, or bumped while cleaning, causing partial to full deafness.

Ear cleaning is an essential piece of overall ear health. Whether done on ourselves or another person, ear cleaning should be approached regularly, methodically and safely.