By now, you’ve probably heard never to clean your child’s ears with cotton swabs, fingers or any other tools for risk of hurting their sensitive ears. But, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recommends parents stop cleaning ears altogether.
The academy recently released new guidelines for dealing with earwax, stressing that it is almost as beneficial as nose mucus or eyelashes and should be left alone. Earwax is the body’s self-cleaning mechanism to protect children’s ears.
“Many people keep their ears too clean,” said Dr. Anton Milo, director of the Ear, Nose and Throat Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. “In this instance, less is more. By constantly cleaning the ear, you could rub the skin raw and make it susceptible to infection, like ear canal dermatitis or swimmer’s ear.”
Earwax, though gooey and downright gross, serves a purpose. It traps dirt, dust and other particles that can get into your kids’ ears and prevents them from moving further into the ear canal. It also helps protect the eardrum and ear canal by providing a waterproof lining to keep it dry and prevent germs from causing infection.
Chewing, jaw movement and new skin growth helps to naturally push the earwax outward, where it will flake off or get washed away with normal bathing.
Therefore, there’s no reason to clean it out or get rid of it.
“The danger with cleaning your child’s ears is it can push the earwax in further and cause impaction, causing more harm than good,” said Dr. Milo. “It can trigger ear pain, itching, ringing in the ear or hearing loss. Just leave their ears alone. The wax is there for a reason.”
In addition, sticking objects, such as cotton swabs or bobby pins, in your child’s ears to clean the earwax could cause a laceration in the ear canal, making it susceptible to infection, or puncture the eardrum, permanently damaging your child’s hearing.
So, listen up and take note of Dr. Milo’s dos and don’ts to taking care of your child’s earwax.
- Don’t over clean your child’s ears. Excessive rubbing may irritate the ear canal, cause infection or even create earwax impaction.
- Don’t put anything in your child’s ears, such as cotton swabs, bobby pins, fingers, otoscopes or other tools.
- Don’t use ear candles. There is no evidence to show they remove impacted wax, and candling can cause serious damage to the ear canal and eardrum. Plus, it’s dangerous to put fire so close to your child’s head.
- Don’t use an ear irrigator or similar gadget. Pushing water in the ear and using the eardrum as the backstop could cause it to rupture.
- Do clean your child’s ear opening using a wadded up tissue or washcloth to wipe away excess wax.
- Do seek medical evaluation if your child has symptoms of hearing loss, ear pain or ringing in the ear. There may be impacted wax jammed against the eardrum.
- Do use over-the-counter eardrops, such as Murine or Debrox, to pretreat wax compaction, instead of cotton swabs or other objects. If needed, only your child’s pediatrician or an ENT doctor should remove earwax.
In rare cases, kids’ ears do make excess earwax. If it interferes with hearing or causes pain or discomfort, it needs to be removed by a doctor. But, only a medical professional can determine whether earwax should be removed and rule out other issues that could be causing symptoms.