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The ear is a very sensitive area, and ear wax types differ according to genetics. Choosing a safe and reliable ear wax cleaner generally depends on the patient's ear wax type and medical history. While doctors can remove ear wax, they often suggest a home treatment using a liquid ear wax cleaner containing carbamide peroxide or a substitute oil; these can be purchased or made at home. Q-tips, fingers, or bobby-pins should only be used with wet or flaky wax; one of the most effective removal tools for any type of ear wax is a plastic loop with a safety guard. Only in cases of excessive ear wax buildup, or infections related to impacted ear wax, will doctors be inclined to issue a prescription ear wax cleaner.
Ear wax can be divided into two types: wet and dry. Wet ear wax is a honey-colored type that is genetically dominant among people of European and African descent. It is a more effective self-cleaner, and prevents dryness. Dry ear wax is gray and flaky, and tends to appear in people of Asian and Native American descent. It is generally considered to be less protective and self-sufficient.
The removal of both types of ear wax may be achieved either by a doctor or at home. A doctor may use a curved metal instrument, called a curette, or a suction device to remove ear wax. If the patient is a child who cannot be calmed, anesthesia may be used to ensure a safe procedure. While home treatment is possible, the procedure should be done with care. If a patient experiences dizziness, vertigo, pain, or ringing during or after home wax removal treatment, he or she should seek care from a medical professional.
Removal with an over-the-counter liquid ear wax cleaner is only appropriate if the ear drum has never had tubes or been punctured in any way. When selecting a liquid ear wax cleaner, look for the ingredient carbamide peroxide. Other potential ingredients may include olive oil, mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and water. Even if a visit to the doctor is necessary, using a liquid ear wax cleaner for one week beforehand may make removal easier. If using a rubber syringe to apply the ear wax cleaner, it is best to use gentle pressure in order to avoid damage to the ear drum.
If liquid removal is not an option, the ear wax may be removed mechanically. The safest device is an elongated plastic loop with a guard at one end. The guard prevents the loop from being inserted too far into the ear canal and causing damage to the ear drum. The loop should be designed to sweep the inside of the ear gently, catching lumps and flakes of ear wax.
Many people assume that Q-tips are an all-purpose ear cleaning device. However, a Q-tip should only be used for wet or flaky ear wax, and it should never be inserted deeply or with great pressure. If the ear wax naturally forms into nuggets, Q-tips will pack the nuggets deeper into the ear canal and are likely to cause infection and hearing loss. For this reason, Q-tips are not advised for individuals with wet, nugget-forming ear wax.
One alternative ear wax cleaning procedure is ear candling. This involves inserting cotton and a wax cone into the ear and burning it from the outside. Ear candling is supposed to work by creating a vacuum. Studies have shown, however, that it is both ineffective and puts the patient at risk, and doctors typically advise against this method.
While ear cleaning is recommended, it should only be done once every month or two. Ear wax assists proper ear functions by filtering dust, capturing debris, and protecting the canal from infection. It also prevents the growth of fungi by maintaining a healthy pH level in the ear. Finally, it is self-draining. Ear wax cleaning procedures should only be used in cases of unusual or stubborn buildup in the ear canal.