Do’s and Don’ts for Ear Irrigation

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The best way to clean ears

While most people don’t think twice about using cotton swabs to clean their ears, they may actually be causing more harm than good. By pushing small objects such as swabs, bobby pins, keys, or other items into the ear, it has the potential to make any wax present move deeper into the ear canal. This can cause a blockage that could set you up for all types of problems.

From dizziness and coughing to ear pain and reduced hearing, there are multiple symptoms that can signify a blockage of earwax has occurred. Other symptoms include the sensation of fullness or ringing in the ear. Not everyone is prone to waxy buildup, but some people have the tendency to suffer from it more often.

One of the most frequent reasons doctors see patients for their ears, this impacted wax can cause problems for people of any age. Often affecting regular users of earbuds or ear plugs, it’s actually quite easy to fall victim to this ailment. People who work in loud environments and use the sponge style ear plugs which get inserted into the ear can be affected by waxy buildup as well.

In order to remove this uncomfortable buildup, both over the counter and doctor administered ear irrigation solutions are available, though it’s not always recommended. Unless excessive ear wax is confirmed as the culprit, it’s best to see a doctor before attempting ear irrigation on your own.

The process requires that liquid be inserted into the affected ear, which should then flush out any earwax, or cerumen, present. In order to administer this at home, you will need to follow this process:

  • Use a small basin or towel below the affected ear to catch any liquid or wax that drains out of the ear during this process.
  • Pulling the ear towards the back and up slightly, insert clean, warm (room temperature) water with a syringe (no needle).
  • Slowly depress the plunger on the syringe to move water into the ear while gently tilting the syringe upwards and towards the back of the ear. This direction helps the water to move more freely throughout the ear and allows the wax to detach from the ear canal.
  • You may have to do this process several times in order to have the desired effects, however, don’t perform it more than five times.
  • Once the earwax breaks up and comes out, you can insert a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol into the ear or use a towel to dry the ear.

Home ear irrigation kits are available at pharmacies, the health and beauty department of your local department store, or online. You can also create your own with a small syringe and a small gauge plastic catheter attached; it is usually safer to purchase one.

If you do make one, be sure it is soft plastic and cut bluntly so it doesn’t poke the ear. Don’t go so deep into the ear that pain is felt. If any pressure or pain is present with either method, stop immediately and consult your audiologist.

There isn’t a lot of information available on the topic of ear irrigation, however, it is worth noting that for those who have had surgery that required eardrum tubes, this is not a recommended way to assist in the removal. For those exhibiting symptoms of a blockage, see your audiologist for treatment.

The body is designed to produce earwax to protect the inner ear. This buildup of dead cells of skin, hair, and other debris usually is removed naturally by the body, though occasionally it requires some assistance. Often the water from showers or swimming that get into the ear will loosen the wax and allow it to come out on its own. When the ear canal becomes plugged with wax, its also referred to as cerumen impaction.

In order to treat this condition here are some tips:

Do’s

  • Do use warm water to irrigate the ear, room temperature is best.
  • Do flush the ear gently, as a forceful flow of water can damage the ear.
  • Do avoid sticking any objects into the ear, this causes the wax to be pushed further into the ear.
  • Do use ear drops to loosen the wax if this is a common problem.

Don’ts

  • Don’t attempt to irrigate on your own if you’ve had surgery to place tubes in the eardrums.
  • Don’t use water that is too hot or too cold. This could cause burning of the eardrum as well as dizziness or acoustic nerve stimulation where the eyes move quickly in a side to side motion.
  • Don’t use if reoccurring swimmer’s ear is a problem.
  • Don’t use if any damage exists due to a sharp metal object placed within the ear.
  • Don’t use if there is a history of disease or damage to the middle ear.
  • Don’t use if there is any history of perforation of the eardrum.
  • Don’t use ear candles, this practice is not recommended.
  • Never irrigate a young child’s ears without seeking advice from an audiologist.

There are other options available for solving the problem of a buildup such as using earwax softener drops or having a doctor remove the buildup. At-home remedies to soften the wax include inserting a few drops of an oily substance into the ear with a small dropper like baby oil, glycerin, or mineral oil.

If you experience any symptoms such as pain, itchiness or ringing in the ear, dizziness or coughing, check with your audiologist to see if you have a blockage of ear wax and if a home ear irrigation will work for you. It can be a very reasonable solution to a very touchy problem.

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