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Ear wax removal - dos and don'ts you should know about

Ear cleaningSome people say that cleaning ear wax is quite a pleasurable experience, others practice it as a ritual and end up cleaning their ears with anything they find including ear buds, safety pins and hair pins. Then there are those 'professional ear cleaners' or ear wallahs in India who stand at the corner of roads and promise to give your ear a complete overhaul (so to speak). But is all this attention to our ear wax really warranted?

Well, most doctors will tell you that cleaning your ears is not at all necessary, that is because the ear is a self-cleaning organ and ear wax is actually your line of defense against infections and water damage to the internal ear.

Sounds unreal right? Here is some food for thought:

Ear wax is an excretion from the skin that is present on the walls of your ear canal. This skin has special glands called cerumen which produce ear wax. This wax is usually sticky in nature and is used to protect the ear from infectious agents and prevents the entry of water into the internal ear. Usually this ear wax accumulates and dries up, eventually falling out of the ear carrying along with it dust particles and sloughed off skin.

So, the question about cleaning still remains -- should you clean ear wax?

Considering the ear is a self cleaning organ, cleaning it is not required. But in some cases ear wax that is supposed to be sticky tends to become dry and can cause itching and discomfort, eventually leading to infections. In such cases it is best you get some medical advice on how to remove the ear wax. Your doctor will usually give you some drops to soften the wax so that it is easily removable. (Read: Could you be going deaf due to these causes?)

When do you need a doctor's advice?

In most cases ear wax can be really harmless, but there are some symptoms you should look out for - pain in the ear, finding it difficult to hear properly, feeling stuffy within the ear, ringing in the ears or tinnitus, itching in the ear canal or discharge from the ears. All these symptoms indicate that either there is some form of infection within the ear or inflammation of the inner lining (also known as a condition called otitis).

In such cases visit your doctor immediately. Ignoring the symptoms could lead to complications such as a perforated ear drum, inner ear infections and in some cases loss of hearing.

But if you simply must clean your ears, here are some things you should not use:Ear anatomy

The inner part of your ear is divided into roughly three parts the outer ear, inner ear or the ear canal and inner ear. Of these parts the outer ear is what you can see (also called the pinna) and can be cleaned with an ear bud or soft cloth. The ear canal is where the ear wax is found. This canal's walls are lined with extremely sensitive and delicate skin that is prone to damage. Moreover at the end of the ear canal is the ear drum (an essential component when it comes to hearing), improper cleaning can lead to the perforation of this membrane. Any damage will not only decrease your ability to hear well, it will also allow the entry of infections into the inner ear.

Therefore using things like safety pins, hair pins, matchsticks, pins, ends of a feather should be avoided. Some people use ear buds or Q-tips to clean their ears, but this is again a practice that can cause more harm than good. According to doctors using an ear bud only pushes the wax further into the ear canal, often pushing it onto the eardrum, and in some cases leading to ear drum perforation.

Moreover, avoid spraying anything into your ear. The water or solution that is released can harm the sensitive skin of the ear canal and your ear drum.

Finally, do not use the services of some roadside ear cleaners or 'ear wallahs', as they use a sharp metal pin wrapped with cotton to clean your ear. It is simply an accident waiting to happen.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of ear infection.

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