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Cleaning Ears and Broken Eardrums

You've probably heard that cleaning your ears with a cotton swab can push wax further down. It can also lead to a perforated ear drum. A study at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half the patients seen in ear, nose and throat clinics admit to using cotton swabs to clean their ears. The research also showed that when the eardrum is perforated as a result of swabbing, 97 percent of all cases heal within two months without treatment. The rest require surgery. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormalities in facial movements - see a doctor if any of these occur. One of the study co-authors advises that instead of using cotton swabs, you can play it safe cleaning the ears by irrigating them once or twice a month with a mixture of equal parts of peroxide and warm tap water (be sure the fluid is body temperature). Other options: use a combination of plain vinegar and water - and place four or five drops in the ear once a week. You can also have a doctor remove your earwax or use an over-the-counter earwax treatment.

Ask Dr. Weil: Eyes and Ears

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Reader Comments (7)

Cleaning Ears and Broken Eardrums need be much more serious - aluminum flashlight

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraluminum flashlight

Thankyou for this. I have frequently suffered from earaches and I always use the cotton swabs to clean my ears. Perhaps this is what the problem was!

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Riggs

I've always been boggled by the warnings about not using cotton swabs for ear cleaning. My guess is that perforated eardrums happen when people fall over or someone unfortuitously opens a door and rams the thing in. When I use them, I am thoughtful about it, very gentle, and mainly sweep the sides of the ear canal. If I touch the eardrum I can feel it, and (having heard the warnings) am specially careful. I will try the peroxide or vinegar methods sometime, but I think with care there should be no problem using a swab. Not exactly pointy things.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Nelson

Ayurveda advocates a drop of sesame oil in the ears every morning. This softens wax and it comes out easily. It also nourishes the ear and prevents hearing loss

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjo Byrd

Dear jo Byrd,
How does the wax come out when softened? Does it fall out of its own accord without further ado? Or do you encourage it with, say, a cotton swab?

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

you flush the ear with water and the wax comes out

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRufus

I like to use hopi ear candles every few months. Hopi earcandling is an ancient practice for cleaning ears used by the Hopi Native Americans. You'll find various massage and holistic therapists offer this service, but it's relatively easy to do at home (though if you're doing it to yourself I recommend having a mirror you can stand in front of you as you're lying on your side to make sure you don't catch your hair on fire). It's a hollow candle that you place in the opening of your ear canal and then light the other end. Heat helps soften the wax and as the candle burns it creates a suction withing the hollow candle as the smoke rises up. This litereally pulls the wax out of your ears and it collects inside the hollow candle.

You can even cut the stub of the candle open at the end and check out what got sucked out. The stuff thats really dark in color (brown or orangey-red) is the old was that's been in there for ages and the lighter stuff is newer deposits).

It's a very relaxing process (especially if someone is doing it to you, rather than doing it yourself). If you go to a holistic therapists he or she will likely add a little aromatherapy and pressure point massage to enhance the experience.

August 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Natural Health Doc
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