Keeping yourself clean offers a number of physical, mental and emotional benefits. But did you know there is a part of your body that is self-cleaning and requires little to no help from you in order to remain in working order? The body part we’re talking about is your ears.
Do You Need to Clean Your Ears?
Your ear is made of three distinct parts. The outer ear is made up of the structure you can easily see, as well as the external auditory canal, which makes up the beginning of your ear canal. Behind the eardrum, called the tympanic membrane, is the middle ear, which contains three tiny bones that help to transmit the soundwaves. Finally, there is the inner ear, which contains the auditory nerve and is responsible for converting the vibrations from a soundwave into electrical impulses, which are sent through the nerve to the brain to be processed as sounds.
Cerumen, also known as earwax, is produced by glands in your skin lining your ear canal. Earwax has several important jobs:
- Protecting and moisturizing the ear canal
- Fighting off infections
- Acting as a shield to prevent dirt, dust and debris from entering the ear
As your body creates new earwax, the older wax moves its way out of the ear, falling away naturally. The act of opening and closing your mouth when chewing and talking moves your ear canal enough to loosen the earwax. According to Christopher Chang, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Warrenton, Virginia, “Generally speaking, the ear canal is self-cleaning.”
But What if You Really Want to Clean Your Ear?
As we discussed above, you don’t need to clean earwax out of your ears. But cleaning the outer ear folds, earlobe and behind the ear with gentle soap while in the shower is generally a good idea. And when you’re done cleaning the ear, dry it with your towel.
Erich Voigt, M.D., clinical associate professor and chief of general/sleep otolaryngology at NYU Langone Health explains, “I tell people to put their finger in their towel and kind of just mark the opening of the ear. This way you’ll remove any unsightly wax from debris and any material that would be visible, but you’re not going into the canal, which would disrupt the natural cleaning process.”
Never Use a Cotton Swab
You should never use a cotton swab to clean your ear. Instead of removing the earwax, a cotton swab will only push the wax further into your ear. In addition, cotton swabs can create tiny cuts in your ear, which can increase your risk of developing an infection.
Dr. Voigt says, “People also use those cotton tip applicators to apply makeup or to clean other areas of their face. But they should not be stuck into [your ear canal].”