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What is the best way to remove earwax?

Is earwax necessary? What's the best way to get rid of it at home?

A. Earwax is essential for maintaining the health and safety of your ears. Small glands in the ear canal produce earwax (medically known as cerumen). This sticky material attracts dust and other small particles, preventing them from reaching the eardrum.



As the earwax dries, it naturally travels out of the canal, dragging debris with it. However, earwax can build upon its own (some people generate more than others) or as a result of poor cotton swab removal attempts.

To soften hardened wax and make removal simpler, you can put any of many substances into the ear canal. Over-the-counter ear drops, hydrogen peroxide, baby oil, and mineral oil are all safe. If you have a current ear infection or a ruptured eardrum, or if you've undergone ear surgery, you shouldn't use them.

Any liquid you put into a partly clogged ear may become caught between the wax and the eardrum, momentarily worsening the blockage.

One word of caution concerning hydrogen peroxide: once the oxygen bubbles have dissipated, it turns into the water in the ear. This keeps the ear canal moist, which encourages bacteria growth. Rinsing the canal with rubbing alcohol gently removes water and aids in the drying of the area. Also, if you experience any pain when cleaning earwax, stop immediately and visit your doctor; you may have an unrecognized ruptured eardrum.

Image: © pepifoto/Getty Images

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No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.

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