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Most of us have heard that you shouldn’t use cotton buds to remove earwax, but let’s be honest. Most of us have used cotton buds to try to get wax out of our ear canal. It’s easy to understand why using a cotton bud might seem relatively simple and risk-free to remove excess wax inside the ear.
After all, isn’t that what cotton buds are designed for? Well, put simply, no. Cotton buds were made to clean and dry skin between a baby’s toes and fingers and skin creases.
But if you reach for cotton buds to put in your ear or anything else to poke into your ears, when you feel you have a buildup of wax, you could cause serious harm to your ear canal and even permanently damage your hearing. The NHS recommends that cotton buds in the ear, and other objects, such as hair pins and straws, are not used to remove earwax buildup.
What Is Ear Wax?
Earwax (cerumen) has a purpose. It traps dust and debris to prevent them from getting deeper into your ear canal. Earwax contains fatty acids, sweat, dirt and dead skin cells. It is critical to keep ears healthy and even protect your ear canal from roaming insects, as they don’t like the smell!
In addition to providing a barrier from water, it also helps to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria, which can cause ear infections. Earwax should be sticky. If it is runny, this is typically a sign of an ear infection. Different-coloured earwax is perfectly normal and can vary between light yellow, dark brown, or black.
10 Signs of a Buildup of Earwax
- A feeling of fullness or pressure
- Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing inside the ear)
- Vertigo (dizziness and feeling sick)
- Hearing loss (or needing to turn up the volume on hearing aids)
- Earache or discomfort
- Unexplained chronic cough
- Darker coloured earwax.
Why Is It Dangerous to Put Cotton Buds Inside Your Ears?
Your eardrum is relatively deep inside your ear canal. This is to protect it as it is extremely delicate. When you use cotton buds in your ear or poke any object into your ear it isn’t easy to judge how far to push it in, and relatively easy to push it onto the eardrum. This can cause a ruptured eardrum, which is incredibly painful and could lead to long-term hearing loss.
If you have ever noticed blood on a cotton bud or your ear has bled after using one, you have likely damaged the eardrum. Fortunately, the eardrum will typically heal. However, it can result in permanent perforation of the eardrum, resulting in hearing loss. Additionally, when you use a cotton bud, you will inevitably push some of the wax further down and are more likely to end up with impacted wax buildup.
How Can You Safely Remove Ear Wax?
Attempting to get rid of earwax can only be done safely by using olive oil or ear drops that help to soften any wax buildup. This may come out by itself after using ear drops, but the only way to remove it safely and get wax out of your ears is by visiting a doctor, consultant or an audiologist.
An old form of professional wax removal is water irrigation, often referred to as ear syringing. However, this method is rarely used now as it can cause damage to the eardrum and ear infections. The preferred method typically used now is earwax microsuction.
This involves a machine that is a little bit like a mini hoover and gently sucks out ear wax and debris. The process is quick, doesn’t hurt and is very effective at removing impacted earwax. Earwax microsuction is also faster, less messy, safer and more effective than removing wax with water irrigation. Typically, just one microsuction treatment is required. However, a second treatment may occasionally be needed if there is a lot of impacted and hardened wax.
At Regain Hearing, we use the latest and most innovative advancements in audiology technology to perform ear exams. You will see images of your ear canal live on a screen during a video otoscopy. If you require microsuction, this will be performed with great care by an audiologist, and if a second session is needed, this is done free of charge.
If you have pain, discomfort or reduced hearing, you may have a buildup of earwax. Earwax microsuction might be all you require to hear clearly again. Put down those cotton buds and book an ear exam with one of our leading audiologists in London, Kent and Essex.