You rarely, if ever, need to remove earwax on your own. Earwax is good! I know this. I really do. And yet—even though I know better—sometimes I cannot resist the urge to use a cotton swab and clean my ears myself. Here’s what to know if you’re like me and occasionally go too far trying to clean your ears manually.
You really shouldn’t use cotton swabs to clean your ears
There’s a lot of confusion (or willful denial) out there about how to take care of our ears. We’ve previously covered how to properly maintain your ears and earwax, with a major takeaway being that you should always avoid sticking cotton swabs into your ear.
It’s rarely necessary to remove earwax on your own. Our ears are self-cleaning, and the earwax you have is important for protecting the outer ear from infection and injury. Moreover, using cotton swabs to clean inside your ears can cause a variety of ear complications.
And yet. Here we are.
What to do if you feel pain
So, what can you do if you’ve brazenly ignored medical wisdom and now feel pain from cleaning your ears? In the short term, you can use over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. According to Healthline, if ear pain persists after three days, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t typically need to see a healthcare provider to have your ears cleaned. However, sometimes earwax can build up or become too hard to be naturally cleared, even if you don’t use cotton swabs in your ear.
When to see a doctor about your ears
If you feel a sudden, sharp pain from using a cotton swab, you may have an ear injury, in which case you need professional treatment. Even if you haven’t used a cotton swab recently, make an appointment with your doctor to have them check your ears if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- ear pain
- ears that feel clogged or plugged up
- drainage from your ear, such as pus or blood
- muffled hearing
- hearing loss
- ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- dizziness or vertigo
These symptoms could mean that a healthcare professional needs to remove an accumulation of earwax, or they could indicate a different health concern altogether.
The best treatment: Stop cleaning your ears
Cleaning your ears is a vicious cycle: Irritated ears produce more wax. There’s an old saying that you should never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear. It’s not necessary for cleaning, and it can lead to serious complications. If you must manually clean your ears, check out our guide alternative methods to clean your ears (that aren’t sticking a cotton swab in there). And again: See your doctor if you experience ear pain, ears that feel clogged, or loss of hearing.