Nature provides many safety mechanisms to protect the ears and keep them clean. The anatomy of the outer ear and ear canal is adapted to catch dust and small objects before they enter the ear.

Hair on the entrance of the ear canal catches any remaining dust or particles before they enter the canal.

Another protective measure is the shedding of the outer layer of skin lining the ear canal. The shedding skin continuously moves outward, in effect “mopping” the ear canal.

Wax catches most of the foreign bodies and works itself to the outside of the ear canal and forms an invisible or slightly yellowish film at the entrance to the canal. This film is usually removed when the ears are washed with soap and water.

You should never use a hard object to clean your ears. These objects can scratch the thin and delicate skin of the ear canal and cause a painful infection. Even soft cotton swabs should be avoided because they push ear wax inward and interfere with the ear’s natural cleaning process.

If the ear becomes stopped-up with wax, it can be cleaned with an ear syringe filled with equal amounts of white vinegar and warm water (cold or hot water will cause dizziness). Using the syrine, pull the ear back and flush it over the sink several times until the return is clear. Avoid plugging the entrance of the canal while flushing.

If the wax is very hard, a softener such as Debrox (follow the instructions on the label) can be used before flushing the ear. Don’t irrigate if the ear is infected or there is a hole in the eardrum. 

In summary, the best way to clean the outer ear is by using soap and water, rinsing it thoroughly, and drying with a soft towel.

The inside of the ears can be dried with rubbing alcohol if there is no infection or hole in the eardrum. It is important never to put cotton swabs or any hard object inside the ear.

If an earache, a “stopped-up” feeling, hearing loss or impacted wax is present, the family physician or an ear specialist should be consulted.

For additional information or to make an appointment, please contact River Cities Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists, P.L.L.C. at (304) 522-8800 or (800) 955-3277

Joseph B. Touma, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Touma Ear and Balance Center
1616 13th Avenue, Suite 100
Huntington, WV 25701
304.522.8800 or 800.955.3277