TikTok Or Not? What To Know About Earwax

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You may find them repelling. But TikTok and YouTube videos that feature subjects like pimple popping and ingrown toenails attract big audiences. Go figure.

The same goes for earwax removal videos. They’ve amassed a staggering 4.9 billion views, according to a TikTok page devoted to clearing ears of impacted earwax. (Yes, there’s a web page for that. You can thank Premier Health Now for looking it up to save you the trouble.)

We also checked in with ear, nose, and throat specialist Dominik Greda, MD, for his take on these videos. (He shared his admiration for the skill displayed by a health care provider in one video.) But mostly we asked for his advice on how and how not to manage earwax in the interest of your hearing health.

How To Safely Manage Earwax

Dr. Greda advises, “I recommend initially using any sort of lubricating solution — mineral oil, baby oil, sweet oil, coconut oil — gently warming up the solution in your hands, and as a preventive measure, putting a few drops in the ear canal, two or three times a week.

“This helps relieve some of the itching from the earwax and helps the earwax to slowly come out.”

You could also use an over-the-counter earwax solution, Dr. Greda says. OTC products often come with a syringe to irrigate your ears with water to remove loosened wax. If you choose to irrigate, he adds, “I would stress gentle irrigation with warm water.” Irrigation with cold water can make you dizzy.

“If something does not seem right (like ear pain, irritation, or dizziness when you irrigate your ears), stop and be evaluated by your doctor.” He adds that some commercial products can irritate the ear canal. If that happens, stop using the product and seek professional help.

Dr. Greda says it’s best to have your health care provider irrigate your ears, because he will first examine your ears for other conditions — like a perforated eardrum.

“Doing vigorous irrigation (with a perforated eardrum) can cause serious symptoms of dizziness, and sometimes it can cause further damage to the eardrum. Vigorous irrigation should be avoided because it can be traumatic to the ear canal and to the eardrum.”

Avoid Putting Things In Your Ears

Dr. Greda cautions against using cotton swabs (Q-tips) or other objects, like a finger, to remove wax from your ear canals. “They enable you to remove some of the earwax, but you ultimately end up pushing earwax deeper into the ear canal (and against the eardrum).”

Impacting wax in your ear canal can lead to temporary hearing loss, ringing in your ears, dizziness, irritation, and pain. “And it puts you at higher risk of injury to the eardrum,” Dr. Greda adds.

Also avoid using ear candles in an attempt to soften earwax. First, there’s no evidence they work. More important, Dr. Greda adds, “candling can cause very serious damage (like burning) to the ear canal and the eardrum.”

“The ear canal skin can be very sensitive, and repeated burning can lead to formation of scars in the ear canal.” This can narrow the canal and further trap earwax, which can lead to infection, otitis externa (swimmer’s ear).

Earwax Is Natural, And Good

Earwax is a substance that naturally forms in your ear canals. It protects the canals from water, bacteria, infection, injury, and foreign objects. It’s made up of skin, sweat, hair, and debris, held together by a fluid secreted by glands inside the ear canal.

For most people, natural jaw movements from eating and talking help remove earwax. And earwax is carried away by skin that sheds from the canals.

But There Can Be Too Much Of a Good Thing

However, some people have excess earwax buildup, which Dr. Greta says can be caused by:

  • A uniquely shaped ear canal, or ear surgery that changes the canal’s shape, restricting earwax from making its way out
  • Skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema that increase flaking of skin and earwax formation
  • Frequently wearing “ear gear.” That is, hearing aids, ear buds, or ear plugs, which can push earwax down the ear canal, where it gets impacted.

Where To Look For More Information

Besides looking to TikTok or YouTube for earwax and ear care advice, Dr. Greda recommends visiting ENTHealth.org, which is sponsored by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 

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