Image shows a girl with a cotton swab in her ear and a red cross over the cotton swab
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Why do we have ear wax?

Contributed by James Pocock

06/02/2017 • 4 min read

Tags • Hearing loss

Ear wax is natural and necessary.

It's a natural lubricant that protects the sensitive skin in the ear canal. It also acts as a barrier that stops dirt and foreign objects from reaching the eardrum.

Ear wax is also part of the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism. The skin inside the ear canal grows outwards, carrying ear wax with it. And because the ear wax captures dirt and dead skin, this all naturally comes out of the ear together with the ear wax.

Chewing and yawning also help to move the wax outwards along your ear canal.

So how do I clean my ears?

Since ear wax is necessary, you shouldn’t clean it too much – you simply don’t need to. However, you can wipe away any visible excess ear wax using a wet cloth. But do not use Q-tips, cotton buds or cotton swabs!

In fact, you shouldn’t stick anything in your ear canal.

Cotton buds may look soft, but they're made from artificial fibres that can scratch and inflame the sensitive skin inside the ear canal, leaving it open to infections.

If you think you have a blockage in your ear canal, or think you are experiencing excessive ear wax, then one of our specialist practitioners will be able to remove your excessive ear wax.

Can ear wax create a blockage?

It's possible.

Ironically, it's often when people try to clean their ears by sticking things in them that they can push ear wax further down their ear and cause a blockage. Pushing ear wax too far in can force it beyond the point where the skin grows outwards. So it gets stuck. Over time, wax can become compacted, leading to hearing loss.

Excessive ear wax

In general, our ears produce the amount of ear wax they need. However, some people do experience excessive ear wax. This can be caused by too much cleaning, where the ear produces more ear wax in an effort to re-establish an appropriate amount. It can also be caused by some medical conditions.

In some cases, hearing aids can contribute to the perception that people have more ear wax, because they sit in the ear canal and prevent it coming out naturally. Hearing aids are fitted with wax filters for this purpose, which need to be changed regularly.

How should I clean my children’s ears?

The same way you clean your own ears: minimally and without sticking anything into the ear. Some people use cotton buds that come in shapes designed to prevent you putting them too far into the ear canal. But these are still abrasive, so we wouldn't recommend using them.

We recommend you use a wet cloth to wipe away ear wax only from the outer part of the ear.