Never Stick Anything Smaller Than Your Elbow In Your Ear

Never Stick Anything Smaller Than Your Elbow In Your Ear

When it comes to ear care, one of the most common misconceptions is the safety and efficacy of using cotton buds for wax removal. While it might seem like a quick and easy solution, the use of cotton buds can lead to a host of problems, including damage to the ear canal and even hearing loss. At Medico Audiology Services, our Cork-based audiology clinic, we prioritise the health and safety of your ears and aim to educate our community on the best practices for ear care. This post will explore the dangers of using cotton buds and outline safe methods for ear wax removal both at home and in a clinical setting.

Why Do We Have Ear Wax

Ear wax or Cerumen is Earwax, or cerumen, is a natural substance produced by the ear that serves several important functions. Despite its somewhat unappealing appearance, earwax plays a vital role in maintaining the health and functionality of our ears. Here’s a closer look at why we have earwax and the benefits it provides.

1. Protection Against Infection

Earwax acts as a barrier that helps protect the ear canal from infections. It contains antimicrobial properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. By trapping dirt, dust, and other particles, earwax prevents these contaminants from reaching the eardrum and causing irritation or infection. The waxy consistency of cerumen ensures that these particles stick to it, allowing them to be expelled naturally.

2. Lubrication

The ear canal is lined with skin that is very sensitive and prone to dryness. Earwax provides natural lubrication, which prevents the skin inside the ear from becoming dry and itchy. This lubrication helps to maintain a comfortable environment within the ear canal, reducing the risk of abrasions and irritation.

3. Protecting the Eardrum

By acting as a barrier, earwax helps to protect the delicate eardrum from external threats such as dust, insects, and other potential irritants. This protective function is crucial because the eardrum is essential for hearing and is sensitive to damage.

4. Self-Cleaning Mechanism

Earwax assists in the ear’s self-cleaning process. As our skin naturally replenishes itself and as we move our jaws through actions like talking and chewing, earwax is gradually moved from the inner part of the ear canal to the outer ear, where it can be washed away or fall out naturally. This process helps to clear out old earwax and any trapped debris without the need for manual cleaning. Manual cleaning using cotton buds often pushes the wax back down into the ear canal going against the body’s natural mechanism.


The Dangers of Cotton Buds & Ear Candling


Cotton Buds

  • Pushing Wax Deeper: Instead of removing ear wax, cotton buds often push it further into the ear canal. This can cause impaction, leading to discomfort, pain, and even temporary hearing loss.
  • Risk of Injury: The ear canal and eardrum are delicate structures. Inserting a cotton bud too far can cause abrasions or even perforate the eardrum, leading to severe pain and potential hearing damage.
  • Infection: Introducing foreign objects into the ear can introduce bacteria, leading to infections such as otitis externa (swimmer’s ear) or otitis media (middle ear infection).
  • Disruption of Natural Processes: Ear wax (cerumen) plays a crucial role in protecting and cleaning the ear by trapping dust and debris and preventing them from reaching the eardrum. Removing too much wax can disrupt this natural defence mechanism and cleaning process, leaving the ear vulnerable to infections.


Ear Candling

Ear candling, also known as ear coning, is a practice that involves inserting a lit, hollow candle into the ear canal with the belief that it will draw out earwax and other impurities. Despite its popularity in some alternative medicine circles, ear candling poses significant risks and lacks scientific support for its purported benefits.

  1. Burns and Fire: The most immediate danger of ear candling is the risk of burns and fire. As it involves holding a lit candle close to the face and hair there is a high risk for burns to the ear, face and neck and risk of hair or clothes catching fire. 
  2. Perforation and Infection: Ear candling also puts the eardrum at risk for perforation and the ear at risk for infections.
  3. Hearing Loss: Ear candling can damage the structures of the ear and the wax from the candle dripping into the ear can cause further blockage. 

Scientific studies have consistently shown that ear candling is ineffective at removing earwax or toxins. The practice is based on myths and does not provide any proven health benefits. The so-called “wax” seen after ear candling is usually residue from the candle itself, not earwax from the ear.


Safe Methods for Ear Wax Removal

  1. Saline Solution or Wax Softening Drops: Over-the-counter ear drops or a saline solution can help soften ear wax, making it easier for the wax to naturally exit the ear. To use, tilt your head to the side, apply the drops, and allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes before applying the drops to the other side. It is important to note that using drops can make the ear feel more blocked before you feel relief.
  2. Over the Counter Bulb Syringe: Ask your pharmacist for a bulb syringe for home wax removal. Using a bulb syringe, gently flush the ear with warm (body temperature) water. Make sure the water is not too hot to avoid burns and dizziness. This method can help dislodge and remove excess wax. After irrigating, dry the ear gently but well with a towel.


Clinical Removal

If the wax is impacted or if there is a significant amount, there is a good chance that it will need to be professionally removed in the clinic. This can be done in a number of ways all of which are safe and effective if done properly.

  1. Microsuction: This is a safe and effective method performed by a professional audiologist. It involves using a small, gentle suction device to remove ear wax under the guidance of a microscope. Microsuction is precise and minimises the risk of damage to the ear canal or eardrum.
  2. Manual Removal: Audiologists may use special instruments, such as a curette or a small loop, to manually remove ear wax. This method is often used when the wax is too hard or impacted to be removed by other means.
  3. Irrigation: Similar to home irrigation but performed with specialised equipment, clinical ear irrigation involves flushing the ear with a controlled stream of water to safely remove wax buildup. 


When to See a Professional

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s important to seek professional help:
– Persistent ear pain or discomfort
– Hearing loss If you notice a sudden drop in your hearing, over less than 3 days, please call us to book in for an urgent hearing evaluation even if you think the change is due to wax.
– Ear fullness or pressure
– Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
– Discharge or odour from the ear



Proper ear care is essential for maintaining good hearing health. At our Cork-based audiology clinic, we encourage you to avoid the use of cotton buds and instead opt for safer methods of ear wax removal. Whether you choose home remedies or professional services, ensuring the safety of your ears should always be a priority. If you have any concerns or need assistance with ear wax removal, do not hesitate to contact our experienced audiologists for professional advice and care.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit our website or call our Cork clinic. Your hearing health is our top priority, and we are here to help you maintain it safely and effectively.


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