Ear wax is a natural lubricant for the ear. It waterproofs the ear and it has an acidic pH, so it helps in preventing infections.
Given the benefits of earwax to the body, why would you want to remove it?
While it's uncommon, some people do have a build-up of wax that causes itching and impaired hearing -- and that's where ear candling comes in. It's marketed as an easy at-home solution for people with this problem and involves taking a candle-shaped beeswax cone, placing it in the ear, lighting it, and after the wick burns down, removing the cone -- along with ear wax and other impurities.
Unfortunately, lighting a flame inches from your ear isn't easy, and in fact, it can be dangerous.
The hearing charity Action on Hearing Loss cautions again using ear candles. It says medical research has shown that ear candling is "both dangerous and ineffective". The group says it does not help to remove earwax and may result in serious injury.
In 2006, the Journal of Laryngology & Otology went further, saying: "A critical assessment of the evidence shows that its mode of action is implausible and demonstrably wrong."
In an article called 'Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science', the journal also said ear candles have been associated with ear injuries, they may do more harm than good and that their use should be discouraged.
Seek medical advice about a build-up of ear wax. Over-the-counter ear drops are available.
Cotton buds should not be inserted into in the canal of the ear is as there's a risk of packing wax in tighter as well as the risk of puncturing the eardrum.
Earwax is one of those bodily fluids that's usually out of sight and out of mind—that is, until you put a Q-tip into those ears and, well, you know. It's not pretty. But if you're self-conscious about the gunk in there, the last thing you should be doing is popping cotton in them, says Ana Kim, M.D., the director of otologic research at New York eye and ear infirmary of Mount Sinai. Here, all the dirty details on earwax—and the right way to get rid of it.
Why Q-Tips are the Enemy
Here's the deal: Earwax is a combination of cerumen, which is produced by your body's sebaceous glands to keep the skin in your ear moist, and dead skin cells, which your ear canal sheds just like the skin on the rest of your body, says Kim. And though it might not seem like it, your ears are designed to clean themselves by pushing the earwax out of the canal on its own, says Maria Suurna, M.D., an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
So when you jam a Q-tip into your ear canal, that disrupts your skin's natural shedding process—and can actually cause your ears to make more wax. Plus, over time, you could push the wax back in your ear canal and create big ol' blockage that needs to be removed by your doctor, says Kim. Ick.
With that in mind, it's important to also nix any other DIY earwax-removal methods you might have come up with. Suurna says that she has had patients who reported using bobby pins and other makeshift ear cleaners to get the wax out. Beside interrupting your ears' natural skin-shedding process and potentially clogging up your ears over time, poking around in there with sharp objects could result in a punctured eardrum.
Other ear-cleaning options you should eliminate include ear candling and rinsing with a syringe and water. Kim says that ear candling—which involves putting a hollowed-out candle into your ear, lighting it, and hoping that the suction caused by the heat takes out the earwax—is likely to cause more harm than good. "The heat could potentially burn your ear drum, and it's possible that the candle wax could get stuck in your ear and cause even more of a problem," she says. Trying to flush out your ears with water sounds safe in theory, but Suurna says that the water could get stuck behind the wax or cause the wax to swell due to the moisture.