How can I safely clean my ears?

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Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
You probably grew up thinking cotton swabs were the ultimate wax removers. But you've heard it before (assuming you're not suffering from hearing loss): Don't stick any spear-like objects (aka Q-tips) into your ear, as they can perforate your eardrum.

Jaw movement naturally forces your ear canal to move and dislodge earwax (though we don't suggest a taffy diet to do so). If you experience wax buildup, you can remove the wax with an over-the-counter softener like glycerin. Or use mineral oil (let it sit in your ear for sixty minutes, then gently flush with saline warmed to body temperature, or just let it fall out on a piece of cotton).

You can also see a doctor, who may try to remove it through a vacuum-like device, which is safe if done by an experienced practitioner. The vacuum technique is much safer than a method that used to be commonly used: flushing out the ears with water and high pressure. The water, if not the right temperature, can cause dizziness, and the high-pressure flooding can damage the drum.
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You can safely use cotton swabs to clean your outer ear, but it is not recommended to use cotton swabs in your auditory canal. Instead, use over-the-counter (OTC) solutions, such as Debrox, to melt away the wax. Generally these solutions contain hydrogen peroxide and can be found in any pharmacy.
David M. Vernick, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
The best way to clean your ears is to use a washcloth to wipe gently around the crevices. Soap and water work just fine. Ear drops and ear irrigation systems sold over the counter in drugstores are also safe as long as you use them according to their directions. Don't poke a washcloth or anything else into your ear deeper than the opening of the ear canal; otherwise, you may push earwax into the canal, where it can cause conductive hearing loss (hearing loss caused by a blockage of sound transmission through the outer ear or the middle ear that prevents sound waves from passing through to the inner ear). Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ears. Many people wind up in the doctor's office with injuries to the ear canals because they worked cotton swabs too far into their ears.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.