Trapped cerumen can retain the bacteria, viruses, and fungus that it was designed to remove. If it remains in the ear because it’s been pushed back, it can cause infection.
Pushed in far enough and you can rupture the ear drum, causing hearing loss. Almost eight million Americans a year have professional medical procedures to remove impacted cerumen.
Stop Using That Q-Tip
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery has published an issue paper on the topic “Earwax and Care” to be used as a guide for ear health.
The first piece of advice: “start by discontinuing the use of cotton-tipped applicators and the habit of probing the ears”. In other words, don’t stick Q-Tips in your ears. If you persist in “cleaning” out your ears, they are more likely to itch, necessitating more scratching: rubbing the skin in your ears releases histamine, irritating and inflaming the skin. As ear wax is also a lubricant, removing it can cause the skin to dry out and result in even greater itch.
If your ears ache, feel full, or you notice impairment in your hearing (or you’ve already used a Q-Tip and shoved the wax too far down the canal for it to push itself out), there are are simple, natural remedies to soften the wax so it can again move on its own.
If you feel you absolutely must give a gentle cleansing, make a mixture of one part vinegar, one part isopropyl alcohol, and one part water—all at body temperature—and place a few drops in each ear. Other than that, nothing smaller than your elbow should ever enter your ear.