Your ears are among the most important of all body parts. They are also among the most sensitive. Looking after them makes a difference to the quality of your life, especially as you age, when hearing often naturally deteriorates. Hearing can diminish gradually over time, so being aware of your ears and of their health can be an important way of ensuring your ability to hear well, since a lot of hearing loss can come upon us very subtly.
Removes dirt, wax, and other build-up
The most frequent way that people clean their ears is with a cotton bud or a swab, or with a rolled up tissue. Rolling this inside the ear will often extract wax or residue in the ear.
However, many health professionals and ear specialists do not recommend this approach to ear-health or ear-cleaning, so do not get into the habit of doing it. An occasional gentle use is unlikely to do any harm in itself, but do take care if you are cleaning the ears with a bud or swab. Make sure not to push anything into your ear too deeply and use a gentle twirling movement, rather than pushing the bud in too far or fast.
Outer ear cleaning and ear drops
Though you should avoid inserting things deeply or sharply into your ear canal, you can still benefit from taking a bud or swab and very gently wiping around the entrance to the ear. If you are suffering from wax, then using ear drops – which are available from all pharmacies – can help.
Be careful, however, not to overuse them or exceed the recommended number of drops, as the use of them can actually impede your hearing if you overload the ear.
Be on the alert for bacteria – and control your headphone use
None of us ever wants an ear infection, as they can be hugely painful, affecting swallowing, breathing and general day to day functioning.
One of the best ways to keep your ears healthy is to keep them dry and clean. If you are prone to infections, you are wise to avoid activities that make your ears moist or wet, such as swimming or using headphones or earphones extensively. Earphones are now used much more than ever before and ultimately the ear does not like excessive intrusion, so be aware of the fact that when you are using earphones the ear is not generally used to having an object stuck inside it for prolonged periods of time. Be sure to give your ears a rest and let the moisture that builds up over time with headphones or earphones evaporate as fresh air enters your ears again.
If you are worried about bacteria, it can be helpful to just dab a little bit of tea tree oil around the ear, as it has antibacterial properties. This is, however, not likely to be necessary very often. Fresh air and avoiding making the ear warm and ‘sweaty’ with headphone heat too often are the best ways to keep it free of bacteria.
Steps to Clean Your Ears
Gently pull the earlobe up and out
You can manipulate the ear gently by hand by pulling the earlobe a little. Do not use any sharp or extensive moves here, as the ear is highly sensitive and the inner parts of the ear are easily disturbed. In addition, with excessive movement you can actually further embed existing wax and push it further inside. If you swallow as you gently tug your earlobe this can help to shift wax and create some airspace as the wax breaks.
You may, however, need to do this over a period of time. If you do not make a difference after a few movements, you are best to let the ear rest and try again later.
Use an over-the-counter ear cleansing solution
Many such products can be found in pharmacies and they’re specifically designed to help reduce the build-up of wax.
That said, you are generally wise to use these products sparingly and not too often, as the ear has a natural protective layer that protects the eardrum and the other inner workings of the ear canal. Be careful to keep this natural protection as undisturbed as possible. Occasional use of cleansing solutions is unlikely to do harm, but do not become reliant on them, or you will keep your ear in a state of constant disturbance.
The usefulness of these cleansing solutions is that they come ready-made, are easily available, and they do not require any heat or complex approach to being administered. They are non-invasive and generally very safe.
Dry your ears after cleaning
This can be trickier than we assume. One way is to simply insert a small amount of cotton wool to the ear to absorb any residual moisture after a shower, swim or bath. Another way is to use a slightly warm compress next to the ear, which will gradually warm away the moisture.
If you have been swimming and have water in the ear, this can require head tilting and a degree of light shaking. Alternatively, lie on your side and the water will run itself clear. This can take fifteen minutes or so, but it is almost always the case that gravity and the natural way water filters in and out of the ear will ensure the water drips out.
What Not to Do When Cleaning Your Ears
Avoid using cotton swabs too deeply
As we said earlier, be very careful with the ear. It is delicate and sensitive. You must exercise caution. Though buds are heavily marketed, avoid using them too much in your ear. They can be used in the outer ear around the inner lobes, but do not get into the habit of inserting them deeply into your ear canal.
Avoid prodding with your fingers
This is because a stray finger working its way into the ear can do damage to the ear canal and the eardrum. In addition, fingers carry bacteria, and you need to avoid bacteria in the ear, or infections may follow.
Avoid any ‘cleaning substances’, such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide
The delicacy of the ear means any such substances must be avoided as they are not designed for the purposes of cleaning the ear. The ear’s sensitivity is significant. It must be treated with care and delicate respect. Such substances can create imbalances in the protective layers in the ear and can upset the healthy-bacterial balance in the ear.
Don’t cleanse more than once a week
Ears do not need excessive attention unless there is a genuine problem. Do not be overly or overtly activist with your ears. They largely self-regulate and can take care of themselves. Think of your eyes – you do not regularly use eye drops or eye cleansing solutions when you have no eye problems. Treat your ears the same way.
When to See a Doctor
Pain in your ear
Pain in your ear is certainly a sign that something isn’t right. Earache can be notably sore, and at times extremely so.
Of course it is possible that part of the pain could be related to the build-up of wax in the ear canal and some of the approaches we have suggested above may help with that.
However, it is also the case that you may have an infection in your ear. If this is the case, it is important to speak with a doctor. For some infections, antibiotics may be necessary and these will need to come under medical advice.
Itching may be caused by the build-up of wax, so using an earwax removal kit or having your ears professionally cleaned by a healthcare professional may help.
It might also be worth consulting your doctor if the itching persists, as there could be underlying medical reasons for the irritation. Allergies, infections, and changes in the levels of moisture and humidity can all cause the skin inside your ears to become itchy and irritated.
Fluid draining from the ear
This is a more common syndrome than you might think. Its causes could range from wax build-up to a number of potential bacterial or fungal infections. If you find that you are experiencing this and it does not rectify itself in a day or so, talk to a medical service and see what they advise.
Hearing loss affects around 1 in 4 people to quite a severe level, and in many more people hearing will gradually diminish with age. Bad ear care, prolonged work in noisy environments, and genetics can all play their part in hearing loss. It is a debilitating condition.
The reality is that if you keep your ears healthy and make sure you keep them clean and have them checked out when things do not feel right there is a better chance of ensuring your hearing stays receptive longer.
Ears are a wonderful part of our bodies. They sometimes do not get the thought they deserve, and we can take them for granted in ways we do not take our eyes for granted. In fact, hearing is an incredibly important part of how we have a high quality life. Look after your ears and make sure they are respected by being kept clean, by being cared for, and by making sure that if they feel odd or if they are causing you pain, you get them checked out and attended to by specialist care.