How to Clean Your Ears: Don’t

Put the Q-tips down.

You know what you can scratch off of your heaping to-do list — forever? Digging deep into your ear with a Q-tip to clean your ears out. Really. The Academy of Otolaryngology just updated their guidelines for dealing with earwax and they’d really, really like for you to quit sticking things in your ears in an effort to clear earwax out, once and for all.

As they explain, earwax is there for a reason: it’s a self-cleaning agent designed to keep the dirty stuff that could actually cause you problems (lookin’ at you, cat hair, dust, and other gross stuff floating around my house) out. If working properly, your earwax should remove itself, and wash away in the shower.

The update to the guidelines, published in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery earlier this week, offers up a list of Dos and Don’ts, my favorite of which is “DON’T put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.” They go on to list Q-tips, along with a number of small items that I guess people, oddly, often clear their ears with, like car keys and toothpicks as absolute no-nos. They also urge against using ear candles.

As Dr. Seth R. Schwartz, chair of the guideline update group, said in a press release, “Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears. The problem is that this effort to eliminate earwax is only creating further issues …” The problem with sticking anything in your ear is that you could poke a little too hard or dig a little too deep and harm your ear drum or canal. Plus oftentimes you’re just pushing the earwax, which works to push itself out of your ear without the help of Q-tips, further down.

So, STOP. Or, if you simply must clean your ears, maybe try this liquid method instead.

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