Let ear clean out wax on its own time (2024)

Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D., Universal Uclick M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’ve always used a cotton-tipped swab to clean earwax out of my ears. My husband says this is dangerous. I think it would be more harmful to leave the wax in my ears. Who’s right?

DEAR READER: Is cleaning out earwax necessary? No, for most people it’s not.

The ear is a self-cleaning organ. Normally, earwax moves from inside the ear canal to the outer ear. Then it either washes out or dries up and falls out, usually without any help.

Earwax is actually useful. It helps shield the ear canal from damage by water, infection or trauma. It traps particles, such as dust. And it helps eliminate bacteria that could damage the canal or eardrum.

Like you, many people insert a cotton swab into the ear. But your husband is right. As tempting as that may be, it’s potentially harmful.

The swab may push the wax farther into the ear canal, where it accumulates and hardens. Pushing hardened earwax deep into the ear canal can damage the eardrum.

Hardened earwax can also cause hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and earaches. In people with hearing aids, hardened earwax can cause the aid to malfunction. If earwax is causing any of these problems, it DOES need to be removed.

Over-the-counter earwax removers can be effective. There is also a safe and effective home remedy for earwax blockage. Use warmed (not hot) baby oil or mineral oil or liquid docusate sodium, dripped into the ear with your head co*cked (to keep it from spilling out). Hold your head co*cked for 60 seconds and then drain your ear oils onto a washcloth.

Or get a bottle of hydrogen peroxide at the drugstore. Soak a cotton ball with the hydrogen peroxide. Tilt your head and drip the peroxide into your ear. You may hear it fizz as it tries to dissolve the earwax. After about 30 seconds, drain your ear onto a washcloth. If this helps, do it two to three more times. If this does not remove the wax within a few days, visit your doctor.

See your doctor first if you have significant ear pain. You could have a perforated ear drum, and flushing the ear could cause an infection.

Earwax is there naturally and doesn’t ordinarily need to be removed. Your best bet is simply to clean your outer ear with a washcloth. Leave wax removal to your ear’s own self-cleaning mechanism.

Above all, don’t try to remove your earwax with cotton-tipped swabs. You can do more harm than good. I’m all for home remedies – when they work. You don’t necessarily need a doctor to remove earwax. But you could need a doctor if you try to do home surgery with a swab.

We have a lot more information on ear and hearing problems in our Special Health Report, “Hearing Loss: A Guide to Prevention and Treatment.” You can find out more about it on my website.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: www.AskDoctorK.com.

Let ear clean out wax on its own time (2024)


How long does it take for earwax to unclog itself? ›

The earwax should fall out on its own or dissolve after about a week.

Is it better to leave ear wax alone? ›

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, as long as the ears are functioning properly, people should not be trying to remove ear wax, and should leave it alone. For the vast majority, ear wax does not cause any problems and there isn't a need to remove it.

What dissolves ear wax immediately? ›

If the aim is to completely break down the wax, waxsol, peroxide 3% or a sodium bicarbonate solution (which can be prepared by your local pharmacist) is effective.

Does ear wax naturally clean itself? ›

The ears are self-cleaning for most people. Earwax migrates from deeper in the ear canal to the ear canal opening via different mechanisms, including normal skin migration pattern and movement of the jaw joint. These mechanism help push earwax outward toward the ear canal opening.

How long does it take to clear ear wax? ›

Ear drops alone will clear a plug of earwax in most cases. Put 2 or 3 drops of ordinary olive oil down the ear 2 or 3 times a day for 2-3 weeks. This softens the wax so that it then runs out of its own accord without harming the ear. You can continue for any length of time, but 3 weeks is usually enough.

How long does it take for an ear to unclog? ›

But a clogged ear is typically temporary, and your ear will likely clear on its own within a few hours or days depending on the cause: Fluid: If your ears are clogged by water or another fluid, they will often clear quickly. Air pressure: If the blockage is caused by air pressure, it may take a few days to go away.

What draws earwax out? ›

Earwax removal tips

Instead, soak a cotton ball and drip a few drops of plain water, a simple saline solution, or hydrogen peroxide into the ear with your head tilted so the opening of the ear is pointing up. Keep it in that position for a minute to allow gravity to pull the fluid down through the wax.

What pushes wax out of ear? ›

Earwax removal by a health care provider

Your health care provider may also recommend that you use earwax-softening agents such as saline, mineral oil or olive oil. This helps loosen the wax so that it can leave the ear more easily.

How do you force ear wax out? ›

If the ear wax is sticky or hard, you may need warm oil or ear drops to soften it. After softening the ear wax, warm water to body temperature. Cold water may make you feel dizzy or cause vertigo. Keeping your head upright, gently pull the outside of the affected ear forward.

Will earwax come out by itself? ›

Usually, there's no need to remove earwax because it comes out by itself. Sticking anything into a child's ears raises the risk of infection or damage to the ear canal or eardrum. Cotton swabs are handy for a variety of grooming needs, but should not be used to remove earwax.

How to unblock ears full of wax? ›

Ear irrigation

Another option is irrigating or syringing your ear. This involves using a syringe to rinse out your ear canal with water or saline solution. Generally, you should soften the wax first by using a cerumenolytic solution. Then, you'll gently irrigate your ear with a bulb syringe.

How to remove stubborn ear wax at home? ›

If your doctor recommends that you try to remove earwax at home: Soften and loosen the earwax with warm mineral oil. You also can try hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room temperature water. Place 2 drops of the fluid, warmed to body temperature, in the ear two times a day for up to 5 days.

Does earwax naturally push out? ›

The ear canal is lined with hair follicles. The ear canal also has glands that produce a waxy oil called cerumen. The wax will most often make its way to the opening of the ear. There it will fall out or be removed by washing.

How do you unclog your ear wax fast? ›

You also can try hydrogen peroxide mixed with an equal amount of room temperature water. Place 2 drops of the fluid, warmed to body temperature, in the ear two times a day for up to 5 days. Once the wax is loose and soft, all that is usually needed to remove it from the ear canal is a gentle, warm shower.

How do you make ear wax come out faster? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Soften the wax. Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
  2. Use warm water. After a day or two, when the wax is softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. ...
  3. Dry your ear canal.
Sep 13, 2017

How to sleep with impacted ear wax? ›

Elevation (aka sleeping upright)

Try propping yourself up on a stack of pillows, or better yet sleep in a reclining sofa or armchair. As long as you're upright enough to allow the ears to drain more successfully, you should notice an improvement in symptoms and be able to sleep much easier.

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