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Cleaning the Wax out of Your Ears

Got wax in your ears? Forget the cotton-tipped swabs and over-the-counter preparations. Leave the cleaning to your doctor.

Normally, earwax will clear out on its own. The ear has a natural self-cleaning mechanism. Ear skin normally sheds from the inside out. If you place a drop of ink on the eardrum and wait a few weeks, it will turn up near the opening of the ear.

But sometimes earwax (also called cerumen) builds up in the ears. As long as there is even a pinhole opening in the packed wax, hearing is usually good. However, when the canal is completely blocked by wax, substantial hearing loss develops.

A doctor can cure this easily by removing the wax either with specially designed instruments or by flushing with water.

Over-the-counter wax control preparations can be used at home and may be effective. However, they sometimes can cause external ear infections.

It's not a good idea, however, to use cotton-tipped swabs to remove wax inside the ear. The ear canal is also a shaped like a funnel, with the narrow end near the eardrum. Cotton swabs generally push wax deeper into the ear than it normally is (wax forms only in the outer segment of the ear canal), and packs it into a mass.