Experts caution against cleaning earwax with cotton swabs


A professional medical organization has issued new recommendations about earwax.

On January 3, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation published updated guidelines which include information about potential problems as well as personal ear care tips.

According to a press release issued by the group, "Earwax or cerumen is a normal substance that the body produces to clean, protect, and 'oil' ears. It acts as a self-cleaning agent to keep ears healthy. Dirt, dust, and other small matter stick to the earwax which keeps them from getting farther into the ear."

Though the body is typically able to expel old earwax through normal activities, some people experience a build-up which can block the ear canal and cause diminished hearing in addition to other symptoms.

This is not an uncommon complication, with the release stating that "excessive or impacted cerumen is present in 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and more than one-third of the geriatric and developmentally delayed populations."

In these cases, the academy suggests that patients consult with a medical expert.

The group also advises against cleaning the ears with objects.

According to Seth R. Schwartz, chair of the guideline update group, "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 because the earwax is just getting pushed down and impacted further into the ear canal."

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