Article by Hearing Partners, contributed by Sadrina Shah, Clinical Audiologist at Hearing Partners
In this article, we debunk some of the common myths surrounding ear digging, highlight the potential complications of this habit and share some tips on what best to do instead.
Myths About Ear Digging
Myth 1: Ear wax is a sign of poor personal hygiene
Earwax, medically known as cerumen, serves several functions. For example, it naturally moisturizes the skin inside your ear, preventing it from flaking due to dryness. More importantly, it traps microscopic debris such as dirt, dust and bacteria and stops them from reaching the deeper parts of the ear canal.
Depending on factors such as ethnicity, age, environment and diet, each individual may produce more or less earwax than others.
Myth 2: I should dig my ears to remove ear wax
Myth 3: I should dig my ears when they itch
When you encounter this situation, it’s recommended to avoid digging your ear as this action can cause more harm than good. Monitor the situation and if the itch persists, see an ENT doctor.
Myth 4: I can dig my ears with my finger
Myth 5: I can dig my ears with cotton buds or metal digger tools
Complications of Ear Digging
Impacted ear wax
Injury to the ear
Alternatives to Ear Digging
Regardless, it’s not recommended to resort to any of the methods above to remove it. Rather, try these alternatives to ear digging.
Over-the-counter ear drops
The purpose of these ear drops is to help soften the wax so that it can be discharged more easily.
- docusate sodium,
- hydrogen peroxide,
- sodium bicarbonate,
- mineral oil,
- olive oil, or
- almond oil.
However, eardrops may be unsuitable for individuals with specific skin types or conditions. For example, eardrops shouldn’t be used if you have a perforated eardrum (a hole or tear in your eardrum).
If you’re unsure of whether eardrops are suitable for you, you’re advised to speak with your ENT doctor or audiologist prior to use.
You may feel like your hearing and/or symptoms worsen slightly just after using these eardrops, but not to worry, it tends to get better after a while.
Once it has been determined that you can go ahead with the procedure, water or a saline mixture will be inserted into your ear canal via a syringe to flush out the wax. The procedure is painless, though you may feel some discomfort.
It’s important to note that ear irrigation may not be suitable for certain individuals, especially those who have undergone ear surgery or have a perforation of the eardrum. If you’re considering this procedure, do consult your ENT doctor to determine whether you’re a suitable candidate.
Similar to ear irrigation, the doctor will first examine your ear canal with an endoscope to find the blockage. This is a tool with a tiny camera and light.
For the microsuction procedure, the doctor will use a tiny vacuum to gently loosen the wax from your ear canal. You may feel some suction inside your ear and hear some crackling or squeaking during the few minutes of the procedure.
Once the wax has been loosened, your doctor will either remove it with the vacuum or a pair of forceps.
Microsuction is suitable for individuals who have had certain pre-existing ear conditions such as:
- A ruptured eardrum
- A history of ear surgery
- Foreign matter in their ear
- Mild otitis externa (outer ear infection)
Tips to Prevent the Buildup of Earwax
Wipe the outer ear
While cleaning the outer ear is safe, it shouldn’t be cleaned too often as it can dry out the skin and cause irritation. It’s advisable to only wipe your outer ears every 2 to 4 weeks.
Keep your ears dry
You can also consider wearing items such as a shower or swimming cap and waterproof earplugs when you’re swimming or showering to prevent water from getting into your ears.
FAQs About Ear Digging
Is digging your ear bad?
How often should I dig my ear?
However, some individuals may still experience a buildup of earwax due to various lifestyle and biological factors. If a wax buildup is manifesting as a more severe issue and needs to be cleared, it’s advisable to see a General Practitioner (GP) or ENT doctor.