Ear wax is a substance that protects the ear canal. It is produced by glands in the outer ear canal and is a mixture of debris and fluid secreted by the glands. Ear wax prevents small particles from reaching the ear canal and eardrum.
Children tend to produce more ear wax than adults, and the amount of ear wax produced varies per child – it can even vary per ear. Ear wax ranges in color from light to dark brown or orange, and the texture can be soft or hard.
Cleaning the Ear Wax
Ear wax usually self-drains from the ear, so it is often advised to leave the wax alone. If there is an excessive wax build-up outside the canal or if a child begins complaining of ear discomfort, a parent may need to clean their child’s ear. This can be done at home, but it is advised to seek medical treatment for proper and safe ear wax removal. If your child has ear tubes, you should not attempt cleaning the wax at all.
If a parent needs to clean the ear at home, Boys Town Pediatrics recommends:
- Washing outside the ear gently with a wet washcloth.
- Using over-the-counter drops that breakdown and remove the wax. Apply drops 10-15 minutes prior to bathing. During the bath or shower, let warm water run into the ears and wash out the canal. Be sure to dry the outside of the ear with the towel.
It is not advised to put cotton swabs or Q-Tips inside the ear to remove the wax. When placed inside the ear, these items can push the wax deep into the canal, creating impaction or scraping the ear drum and leading to infection.
When to See a Physician
Too much ear wax can cause blockage, infection or hearing problems. If your child is experiencing excessive ear wax production, schedule an appointment to speak with an ear, nose and throat physician or your primary care provider. The physician will evaluate the ear and use appropriate techniques to safely remove the wax and ease discomfort.