Muffled sound? Could be too much earwax


A buildup of wax in your ears can muffle sound. But before you grab that cotton swab—read on for tips to safely clean your ears.

Earwax—it’s more than just a minor annoyance you take care of every morning after the shower. It’s actually designed to protect and lubricate your ear canal and contains antimicrobial properties that defend against infection. The tricky part is how to clean your ears without causing damage. Most people don’t realize that cleaning their ears too often using a cotton swab or Q-tip can push the wax even deeper in and may lead to dry and itchy ears. In fact, a study by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, found that using a Q-tip may land you in your doctor’s office for impacted cerumen—earwax that’s been jammed so deep in the ear canal—and possibly for a ruptured eardrum.

To avoid this, nix the Q-tip and follow these steps to clean your ears safely and properly:

  1. Wet a washcloth with warm water and gently clean the outside of your ear. When you’re finished, dry with a towel.
  2. Purchase an eye dropper from the drugstore and fill with hydrogen peroxide or baby oil, which can soften and help loosen the wax build-up.
  3. Tilt your head so one ear faces the ceiling. Squeeze four or five drops into that ear. Slowly massage it in circles. Return your head to a normal position. Let the solution sit in your ear for 10 minutes.
  4. Re-fill the dropper with warm water, slowly squeeze the fluid into your ear flushing out any wax. Tilt your head to the opposite side to drain. Repeat on your other ear.

You may be surprised to find that cleaning your ears doesn’t remove any wax. Most ears naturally dissolve and remove wax as it builds up, so don’t worry too much about doing this on a regular basis. Just remember to stay away from over the counter ear cleaning products or ear-candling sessions, which the FDA advises against. They’re usually ineffective and can cause damage.

If you feel your ears are clogged or you’re still having difficulty hearing, schedule an appointment for a hearing test at a clinic near you. 

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