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Earwax removal with a Q-tip is generally a no-no, but removing excessive earwax causing an ear blockage is sometimes essential. Here's how and when to do it.

Earwax is something all of us deal with but most of us don't know a lot about. For instance, did you know:

  • Earwax is actually good for years. The yellow, gooey stuff stops dirt, dust, bugs, and other stuff from getting very far into your ear canal. It also stops bacteria from getting into your ear to prevent infection.
  • It's not a good idea to put anything inside your ear, not even a Q-tip (and certainly not candle wax). Pointy objects in your ears are absolutely to be avoided. Even a cotton swab can force wax into your ear canal where it can harden, necessitating earwax removal by a doctor to undo an ear blockage.

 

  • Even if you can see earwax, don't remove it. Earwax is gross, but it is protective. Unless it is dark brown, flaky, or bloody, leave it alone, and even in those cases, go see a doctor. Don't remove it on your own.
  • Your outer ear, the 3 cm (1-1/4 inch) canal from the visible opening of the ear canal leading into your middle ear, makes earwax. This canal is lined with skin that produces the wax. The skin lining your two ear canals contains up to 2,000 specialized sweat glands that release cerumen, also known as ear wax.
  • Like a self-cleaning, your ears are actually self-cleaning. Every time you chew, your ears push some wax out of the canal to the surface of the ear, where it dries and falls off. If you have a problem with earwax buildup, try chewing gum.
  • Just say no to ear candling. An ear candle is a hollow cone with a wick. You stick one end of the cone in your ear, and light the wick on the other end. The heat is supposed to melt the wax that has built up in your ear canal. There is black waxy material inside the candle after you use it on your ears; however, this comes from the wick, not from your ear. However, it's possible to drip hot wax into your ear, causing a burn inside your ear, and some people have punctured their eardrums with this method. It's just never a good idea to stick anything inside your ear.
  • If just have to remove a buildup of earwax, skip suction devices for removing pimples and water picks for cleaning your teeth. Instead, mix equal amounts of hydrogen peroxide and clean tap water and put five drops in your ear before you go to bed. If this doesn't break up the ear wax, go to see your doctor, who has special instruments to remove excess ear wax.
  • Earwax can be especially problematic when you have eczema. Remember, the lining of your outer ear canal is skin. Eczema can affect this area like any other skin. Flaky skin can mix with wax and form an ear blockage that can be a challenge to remove.
  • People of different racial origins have different kinds of earwax. Caucasians and Africans (and African-Americans) have earwax that is brown, sticky, and moist. Asians have earwax that is gray or tan, dryer, and brittle, due to different amounts of fatty acids in the wax.
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