How to Clean Your Ears

Learn how to clean your ears properly to prevent ear problems and ear infections from Ronald A. Hoffman, M.D. in this Howcast video.

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Ear pain is the worst, especially if you have no idea what's causing it. Is it a plain old earache, an ear infection, or something else? In this video series, Ronald A. Hoffman, M.D. tells you everything you need to know to treat and prevent ear problems. He'll even teach you how to get water out of your ear and how to pop your ear safely.

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One of the most common conditions of the ear is the buildup of earwax, or cerumen, as it is medically called. Earwax is the normal product of normal, healthy ears, and everyone should make some earwax. It serves a protective function, and it somewhat lubricates the skin of the ear canal. Earwax is made by sweat glands that have been modified in your ear to produce wax. Earwax can be soft, it can be hard, it can be yellow, it can be dark. It really doesn't matter. When earwax builds up, your ear feels blocked or stuffed, and you feel as though you have a hearing loss. There are over the counter remedies, such as drops, and little irrigators which you can use to irrigate your ear. You must be careful, however, that you don't do this too vigorously. If you have any discomfort or any dizziness, you should stop immediately and seek medical attention. If you see your internist, it's likely that someone in your internist's office will be able to irrigate your ear with solution or use a fine instrument to clean your ear. On occasion earwax is so firmly impacted in the ear that you will have to seek the consultation of a specialist, an ear, nose, and throat physician. An ear, nose, and throat physician will have special tools and special instruments that will allow them to clean your ear effectively and painlessly. One of the more common methods of cleaning the ear is with a Q-tip, and this is not advised. The old mother's tale is never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow, and it's probably true. Wax generally comes out of the ear spontaneously. The skin of your ear grows out of your ear in a radial fashion, and it tends to carry wax to the outside. So if you feel driven to use a Q-tip, just use it in the very outside in a circular fashion but don't push it in because more often than not you will simply push the wax further in your ear impacting it rather than taking it out. In addition, if you put a Q-tip too deeply in your ear, you can injure your eardrum. You can cause permanent hearing loss You can cause a hole in your eardrum. Be careful with Q-tips.

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  • Dr. Ronald Hoffman

    Ronald A. Hoffman, M.D., MHCM is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Jefferson School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at New York University and a fellowship in Otology and Neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Doctor Hoffman has a Master's Degree in Health Care Management from the Harvard School of Public Health. He is currently the Director of the Ear Institute at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the New York Medical College. He has published extensively on skull base surgery and cochlear implantation.