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Ear Hygiene For Better Hearing
The best way to prevent adult-onset hearing loss

  
08/26/2008
©John M. Adams, III

Most of us do it wrong. We clean our ears with cotton swabs, despite warnings from the hearing community, TV commentators and mom.

Ear Wax - The Whole Sticky Story
OK, it’s not much of a story, but ear wax, called cerumen by hearing professionals, is produced by tiny glands that line the ear canal - the tube that connects the outer ear with the middle ear.

And, believe it or not, ear wax actually plays a role in protecting your hearing. This sticky substance is designed to trap dirt and other debris floating in the air before it reaches the delicate, middle and inner ear mechanisms. And, muscles in the ear canal push this debris toward the outer ear. In other words, the ear is self-cleaning, even if ear wax is kind of gross.

How to Puncture An Ear Drum in One Easy Lesson
Most of use cotton swabs to remove cerumen and other gunk that accumulates within the ear simply by living life. It’s a natural occurrence. However, many of us have actually been taught that ear hygiene requires a good reaming of the ear canal with a cotton swab. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, there’s the obvious danger of damaging the delicate tympanic membrane. Even puncturing it. For life. That alone should be reason enough to keep cotton on a stick away from your ears. But there’s another reason.

Ear wax catches minute dust and debris that floats its way into your ear each day. And, this gunk is moved toward the outer ear, away from the eardrum. Now, every time you “clean” your ears with a cotton swab you (1) remove the sticky stuff that’s supposed to be there and (2) you push dirt, debris and cerumen further into the ear - closer to the ear drum. And over time, this wax and dirt can become impacted deep within the ear canal.

When things get this bad, professional medical help is usually required.

The Right Way to Clean Your Ears
First, don’t stick anything down the ear canal - a cotton swab, a hair pin, toothpick or, as the old cliché goes, your elbow.

Instead, use a wash cloth and gently wash the outer ear, front and back, with soap and warm water. If water tends to get into the ear canal during this cleaning phase, pick up some wax ear plugs at the pharmacy. These wax plugs can be shaped to fit the opening of your ear canal and prevent water from entering.

Dry your outer ear, (FYI, called the pina by professionals) to prevent water from entering the ear canal. Be sure to remove all soap and water from the pina.

And you’re done.

Ear Wash
If ear wax does accumulate to the point where it has a negative impact on hearing, buy an over-the-counter ear wash system which includes an ear wax softener and a rubber bulb to flush out the ear.

Use warm water and gently flush excess wax from your ear regularly - before it causes a problem. That’ll make things a whole lot easier.

Finally, if the OTC remedy doesn’t work, it’s time to seek help from your hearing health professional. An abundance of cerumen is common and there are several remedies you can try to alleviate the problem

 

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John M. Adams, III

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