Jane Emanuel, M.D.
Boys Town Ear, Nose
& Throat Institute
Ear wax is actually stuff that should be in your ears, it’s
a protective substance. There are special glands in your ear canal, the outer
one third of it actually, that secrete ear wax.
It’s protective, it’s anti-bacterial, it is a lubricant but
it repels water. Basically, it’s a substance that your body knows it should
have there to protect your ear canals from invaders, water, bacteria, etc. It
keeps your ears healthy.
Does ear wax cause
I think people think ear wax is more of a problem and a huge
hygiene issue but ear wax is best left alone and not removed or excessively
treated. It’s like most things in our body, it’s there for a reason. I see more
patients with problems because they’ve tried to manipulate or do something with
their ear wax than people who just leave it alone.
Can I use Q-tips to
clean my ears?
I usually tell people that Q-tips are good for giving me
business. They are not a part of necessary ear hygiene and that’s hard to get
people to buy into. They get overused and what they do is push the wax down the
If you think about your ear canal, it’s a tube and there is
a wall at the end, and you’re just pushing it in. So, I see more troubles from
Q-tips than I ever see benefit from Q-tips.
Also, I see a moderate amount of eardrum damage or ear canal
damage from Q-tips. They are not anything we like to see our patients using.
When should my ears
The only time they need to be cleaned is when they’re
plugged up and you can’t hear. Then they should be cleaned out. If you have
that, at least, come to a medical provider the first time it happens and let
them diagnose and say here’s the problem. Often times, it’s a one-time thing.
Clean them out and you’re good to go, don’t use Q-tips and you’ll be fine.
If you have a recurrent problem, then usually the doctor
will say, here’s a regiment I want you to use at home, sometimes
over-the-counter products, etc.
In general, I don’t have people use the over-the-counter
products because it just makes your ear canal wet, squishy, and it sometimes
plugs up just as much.
Ear wax provides protection for our ears. Dr. Jane Emanuel, Board Certified Otolaryngologist at Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute, explains why ear wax is important, when it can become a problem and why you shouldn't use Q-tips to remove it.