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Now Hear This: Don't Remove Earwax

ear, wax, earwax, q-tips, cotton swabs, ear infection, impaction, hearing loss, ear canal, ear drumAccording to just-release U.S. national guidelines on earwax removal, you should leave it in your ears.

Earwax is a self-cleaning agent, with protective, lubricating and antibacterial properties. That's why tiny glands in the outer ear canal constantly pump it out. Excess earwax normally treks slowly out of the ear canal, carrying with it dirt, dust and other small particles.

When individuals poke around in their ears with cottons swabs or other foreign objects, earwax can actually build up and block part of the ear canal.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The guidelines issued by the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) were created to, hopefully, alleviate the common problem of excessive earwax, which sends some 12 million Americans to their doctor’s office for medical care each year.

Impacted earwax deep in your ear canal can cause:

  • Pain
  • Pressure
  • Itching
  • Foul odor
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Ear discharge
  • Hearing loss

What Causes Earwax to Build Up?

Earwax is formed in the outer one-third of your ear canal, NOT in the deep part of your ear canal near your eardrum. Therefore, if you get wax buildup against your eardrum, it’s likely because you’ve been too vigorous with Q-tipping or probing your ear with things like safety pins and twisted napkins, which pushes the wax further in.

Normally, earwax will naturally migrate outward, carrying dirt and debris with it. Using earplugs or headphones for extended periods of time or wearing hearing aids, however, can increase the likelihood that wax won’t come out properly.

But why do some people keep getting a buildup of excess wax in their ears, even if they don’t wear hearing aids or are addicted to their iPod? If you ask most any ear, nose, and throat specialist they will likely be clueless as to the cause of this recurring problem.

Excess wax buildup is actually most  likely due to an essential fatty acid deficiency, which can be remedied by supplementing your diet with a high quality omega-3 fat.

When, and How, Should You Remove Earwax?

According to these new guidelines, you should simply leave your ears alone, unless you experience symptoms associated with earwax buildup and blockage of your ear canal.

These symptoms include:

  • Earache
  • A feeling of fullness in your ear, or a sensation that your ear is plugged
  • Partial and/or progressive hearing loss
  • Tinnitus, ringing, or noises in your ear
  • Itching, odor, or discharge
  • Coughing

Keep in mind that if you have too little earwax in your ear canal, your ears may feel dry and itchy. Q-tipping will only make the situation worse, so you’re better off leaving it alone, allowing your body to replenish the earwax. 

If you do experience a buildup of wax, you can easily remedy the situation at home by using either water, oil, or ear drops to soften the wax to help it migrate out on its own, or you can use ear irrigation to flush the wax out.

Acceptable liquids that you can use for this purpose include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Carbamide peroxide
  • Olive oil

It’s worth noting that using plain sterile water, or a sterile saline solution to soften earwax works just as well as oil or any over-the-counter ear drops. However, I normally find that high-pressure irrigation of the ear canal with a syringe is necessary to remove troublesome wax.  This should be limited to a professional as if done improperly it can damage your ear drum. Additionally, you should NOT irrigate your ears if you have diabetes, a perforated eardrum, a tube in your eardrum, or if your immune system is weakened, however.

If you suffer from a more serious impaction or you can’t get results at home, you may need to get the earwax removed by a physician who can manually remove the wax using a otoscope and appropriate instruments.

The guidelines strongly warn against using any of the following to remove earwax:

  • Cotton-tipped swabs or other probing objects
  • Oral jet irrigators
  • Ear candles

How to PREVENT Buildup of Earwax

As I stated earlier, the CAUSE of frequent excess buildup of earwax can oftentimes be traced back to an omega-3 deficiency, so the remedy is quite simple: Take a high quality omega-3 supplement.

Once you’ve cleared out any excess buildup or impaction, making sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of omega-3 will normally prevent a recurrence. If the wax does return, it’s a clue that you have a serious omega 3 deficiency.

I recommend taking krill oil, as it has been proven to be far superior to other forms of omega-3 supplements.

If you consume few grains and sugars, and are not seriously overweight or struggling with other signs of insulin excess such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, then you could also consider the use of plant-based omega 3s such as flax seed.

Flax is best taken as a seed, freshly ground in a coffee grinder. Not only will you receive the beneficial fat, but there are some useful fibers, called lignans, which have actually been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers as well.

+ Sources and References