Fall cleaning

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm going to tell you what I'm sure you have heard before -- and probably still ignore: Cotton swabs are a big no-no. Hair pins and other small hook-type objects people use in attempts to empty the ear canal also top the list of things that make your doctor cringe.

I asked a friend who practices audiology how to deal with excessive wax in the ear.

Never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear, she told me. Cotton swabs and hair pins can damage the ear canal or puncture the eardrum. I know that little white tip often comes out with yucky color on it, but cotton swabs push cerumen, the real name for ear wax, down farther in the ear. It's tempting, yes, but step away from the little stick. For most people, extra earwax can be removed with a damp wash cloth and your finger.

A little cerumen is good for the ear; it serves as a protectant. A very small percentage of people have excess earwax and should probably see their doctor for removal. Your primary-care physician or an ear-nose-and-throat doctor will be able to help, but the question was more along the lines of a painless at-home remedy. For that, head to the local drugstore. A Missouri ENT invented a contraption called the Ototek Loop that will grab earwax but has a safety piece that prevents the user from sticking it too far into the ear canal.

General nutrition stores in West Park Mall had drops and ear candles, but some ENTs cautioned against these. Ear candles are 12-inch long wax cones that you're supposed to stick in your ear and then light on fire. The box says it will not get earwax out of the ear and many physicians agree this is a pointless and dangerous procedure.

I tried it before I found that out. Having a flaming tube sticking out of my head for 10 minutes while my friend periodically assured me it wasn't close to my hair was not my idea of a safe way to deal with earwax. Don't do it. I haven't tried the Ototek Loop, but it came highly recommended. This works well if the wax isn't really deep in their ear or super impacted.

Apparently some physicians use a gentle gush of water to wash out the wax. My ear girl said water in the ear should never hurt and shouldn't be shot down the canal with excessive force. Water from normal showering and swimming can be annoying, but shouldn't be painful. The times you want to be worried about water in regards to your eardrum is if you have tubes in your ears, or you have a perforated eardrum.

That itch you feel when you exit the shower is more than likely shampoo that has fallen into the ear canal and is attacking the wax. Again, step away from the cotton swab. Put a damp cloth over your finger and wipe around the edge. As a daily activity, this will keep the ear clean. As the skin in your ear grows over time, out will come the wax and you can safely remove it, no flame required.

Now you know.

Have a quest? Send questions to charris@semissourian.com; post on semissourian.com/blogs under "Quest for the Healthy Grail" or c/o Quest, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO, 63703.

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