Have you ever stared at the end of a cotton swab wondering what in the world earwax is and why we have it? According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (basically the authority on all things ears), earwax is “a self-cleaning agent with protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties.” In other words, not only is earwax healthy and natural, it also provides a necessary and important bodily function. The earwax that lands on the end of your Q-tip is old earwax that has dried, flaked and failed to fall out.
You may be surprised to learn the American Academy of Otolaryngology does not recommend using Q-tips and other cotton swabs to clean the ears. This is because such instruments can actually push the wax deeper into the ear. This can cause hearing loss, ringing in the ears, foul odor and painful or itchy ears, according to Health. Here are some of our favorite home remedies that do not involve cotton swabs:
1. Baby oil. The Mayo Clinic recommends softening the wax by carefully applying a few drops of baby oil using an eye dropper. You can also use mineral oil and glycerin in the same manner.
2. Warm water. Use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently apply warm water to the ear canal. To do this effectively, Mayo Clinic recommends tilting your head and pulling the outer ear up and back to straighten and expose the ear canal. Upon finishing treatment, tilt your head the opposite way to allow the water to drain.
3. Salt water. If warm water doesn’t do it for you, try salt water, as advised by Beyond Disease. Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt in 1/4 cup warm water. Use an eye dropper to apply two or three drops directly into the ear. You can also soak a cotton ball in the salt water and gently dab it on your ear.
4. Salmon. A fatty acid deficiency may be the culprit behind excess wax buildup, says Beyond Disease. If you suspect you are deficient in omega-3s, increase your intake of salmon, flaxseed and Brussels sprouts.