Q-tip

Contrary to popular belief, Q-tips in your ears do more harm than good. And, they’re actually counterproductive.

Most people use Q-tips to clean wax or water out of their ears. But sticking cotton swabs in your ear every day can actually push the wax further up the ear canal, beyond where it’s naturally produced. This can lead to infections, clogged ears, and other preventable problems, including punctured eardrums—ouch! So if you just can’t resist cleaning your ears, allow me to recommend some much better, safer solutions.

First, if you must use a cotton swab, at least cut back to a few times a month at most. And never insert a swab in a cold ear. Only clean your ears after a warm shower, when the hot water and steam gives ear wax a chance to soften. That will make it easier and more effective to remove the gunk with a swab. Finally, clean only the outer rim, never the inner ear canal.

Better yet, I highly advise giving up the swabs altogether and gently cleaning the outer ear with a damp washcloth instead. Anything that’s not small enough to fit inside the ear canal is a safer option than Q-tips!

Another effective remedy for cleaning stubborn ear wax is an oil and hydrogen peroxide wash. Once a week at bedtime, fill an eyedropper with olive, mineral or baby oil and insert three drops in each ear. Massage the cartilage around your ear to help spread the oil inside your ear canal. Then stuff a cotton ball gently in your ear to keep the oil from dripping out while you sleep. When you wake up, remove the cotton ball and rub hydrogen peroxide into your ear. The peroxide will bubble, cleaning out any traces of earwax in the process. It’s best to do this in the shower where you can rinse all the goo down the drain.

Finally, if you suffer from stubborn ear-wax buildup, it’s best to leave it to a professional. Your doctor can use a special syringe to irrigate your ear canal and break up ear wax safely. When it comes to your ears, my motto is better safe than sorry!

Daniel Fear, MD, is Otolaryngologist who sees patients at Asante Ear, Nose and Throat in Grants Pass.

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