Should You Put Hydrogen Peroxide in Your Ears?

And Four Other Questions About Ear Wax Removal

Most of us grew up happily shoving cotton swabs in our ears. Most of us still do. But there are better (and safer) ways to deal with ear wax.

Recently, there's been a troubling rise on TikTok of medical advice given by people who are by no means qualified to provide it. The spread of such misinformation is its own can of worms, and it's not a problem we're going to solve here. Instead, we're going to focus on one trend in particular — using hydrogen peroxide to clean earwax. 

It's hardly a new concept — but does it work?

 

Foreword: The Importance of Ear Safety

Before we dive into the actual Q&A, we need to establish something up front: sticking objects in your ears is unsafe. 

It's something we've had drilled into us countless times by audiologists, general practitioners, and even ad spots. Yet, for one reason or another, many of us still insist on jamming cotton swabs up there to clean out excess earwax. And while that may feel satisfying to use, it's not actually fixing the problem.

If anything, it's making things worse.

Because cotton swabs aren't designed for earwax removal, they only seem to be cleaning our ears. What's actually happening is that they're shoving cerumen deeper and deeper into the ear — far more than is visible on the swab. All the while, there's the ever-present risk that sooner or later, you're going to push too far.

Then you've got a ruptured eardrum. 

Ruptures aside, putting any foreign object in your ear increases the risk of infection, hearing loss, and blockages. Cotton swabs, in particular, can actually exacerbate itching and irritation, the temporary relief they provide giving way to even more significant discomfort. 

 

What Is Earwax, Exactly? 

Earwax is the product of a set of organs known as the sebaceous glands. Situated in the middle and outer ear, these glands produce cerumen to trap foreign material before it can damage the delicate inner structures of the ears. Cerumen, in other words, serves much the same purpose as mucous in the nose. 

This process, however, is anything but swift. Earwax takes quite some time to form and then even longer to make its way through the ear canal, helped along by the movement of our jaws as we eat, speak, and yawn. By the time it's reached the outer ear, the cerumen has dried up and can fall out or be removed without harm.

 

Can Hydrogen Peroxide Safely Clean Earwax?

Yes and no; it's complicated. 

Although it's true that the chemical dissolves and flushes out earwax, it can also be quite harmful to the sensitive skin of the ear canal. Hydrogen peroxide also has a tendency to dry out the skin. Overusing it or using it incorrectly might very well make things worse instead of better.

Still, if you're dead-set on using it, you'll want to take a few safety measures. 

  • Invest in an ear syringe

  • Dilute the hydrogen peroxide with water — either one part peroxide to three parts water or a 50/50 split. 

  • Use an eyedropper and place a few drops of the mixture inside your ear. Wait for around ten seconds with your head tilted to the side, then rinse your ear with clean water. 

  • Repeat for the other ear. 

     

Do Ears Need to Be Cleaned? 

They do not. Our ears are self-cleaning and should generally be left to their devices. Realistically, earwax only needs to be cleaned unless it's a severe enough buildup to cause hearing impairment, pain, or damage to the ear (also known as cerumen impaction). Unfortunately, that's where our own bungling comes in. 

When we use cotton swabs in an effort to relieve the itching, it eventually becomes worse. Then we need to use more cotton swabs, and more, and more.

If you are using hearing aids, you can also find a number of different hearing aid wax guards that work for your device.

 

How do I know if I Have Cerumen Impaction?

Unfortunately, because cerumen impaction shares so many symptoms with so many other conditions, it's incredibly difficult to diagnose it without a visual exam. Possible symptoms might include:

  • Vertigo

  • Tinnitus

  • Hearing loss

  • Earaches

  • Feeling of 'fullness' in the ears.

  • Itching

 

What Causes Cerumen Impaction? 

As mentioned earlier, the most common cause of impacted cerumen is our tendency to stick foreign objects in our ears in a futile effort to remove earwax. Other conditions that could result in impacted earwax include ear canal disease, Crohn’s, benign tumor growth, etc.

 

Afterword

As always, your audiologist or hearing care professional knows best — if you're experiencing any of the symptoms of cerumen impaction, it can't hurt to schedule an exam.

Should You Put Hydrogen Peroxide in Your Ears?

And Four Other Questions About Ear Wax Removal

Most of us grew up happily shoving cotton swabs in our ears. Most of us still do. But there are better (and safer) ways to deal with ear wax.

Recently, there's been a troubling rise on TikTok of medical advice given by people who are by no means qualified to provide it. The spread of such misinformation is its own can of worms, and it's not a problem we're going to solve here. Instead, we're going to focus on one trend in particular — using hydrogen peroxide to clean earwax. 

It's hardly a new concept — but does it work?

 

Foreword: The Importance of Ear Safety

Before we dive into the actual Q&A, we need to establish something up front: sticking objects in your ears is unsafe. 

It's something we've had drilled into us countless times by audiologists, general practitioners, and even ad spots. Yet, for one reason or another, many of us still insist on jamming cotton swabs up there to clean out excess earwax. And while that may feel satisfying to use, it's not actually fixing the problem.

If anything, it's making things worse.

Because cotton swabs aren't designed for earwax removal, they only seem to be cleaning our ears. What's actually happening is that they're shoving cerumen deeper and deeper into the ear — far more than is visible on the swab. All the while, there's the ever-present risk that sooner or later, you're going to push too far.

Then you've got a ruptured eardrum. 

Ruptures aside, putting any foreign object in your ear increases the risk of infection, hearing loss, and blockages. Cotton swabs, in particular, can actually exacerbate itching and irritation, the temporary relief they provide giving way to even more significant discomfort. 

 

What Is Earwax, Exactly? 

Earwax is the product of a set of organs known as the sebaceous glands. Situated in the middle and outer ear, these glands produce cerumen to trap foreign material before it can damage the delicate inner structures of the ears. Cerumen, in other words, serves much the same purpose as mucous in the nose. 

This process, however, is anything but swift. Earwax takes quite some time to form and then even longer to make its way through the ear canal, helped along by the movement of our jaws as we eat, speak, and yawn. By the time it's reached the outer ear, the cerumen has dried up and can fall out or be removed without harm.

 

Can Hydrogen Peroxide Safely Clean Earwax?

Yes and no; it's complicated. 

Although it's true that the chemical dissolves and flushes out earwax, it can also be quite harmful to the sensitive skin of the ear canal. Hydrogen peroxide also has a tendency to dry out the skin. Overusing it or using it incorrectly might very well make things worse instead of better.

Still, if you're dead-set on using it, you'll want to take a few safety measures. 

  • Invest in an ear syringe

  • Dilute the hydrogen peroxide with water — either one part peroxide to three parts water or a 50/50 split. 

  • Use an eyedropper and place a few drops of the mixture inside your ear. Wait for around ten seconds with your head tilted to the side, then rinse your ear with clean water. 

  • Repeat for the other ear. 

     

Do Ears Need to Be Cleaned? 

They do not. Our ears are self-cleaning and should generally be left to their devices. Realistically, earwax only needs to be cleaned unless it's a severe enough buildup to cause hearing impairment, pain, or damage to the ear (also known as cerumen impaction). Unfortunately, that's where our own bungling comes in. 

When we use cotton swabs in an effort to relieve the itching, it eventually becomes worse. Then we need to use more cotton swabs, and more, and more.

If you are using hearing aids, you can also find a number of different hearing aid wax guards that work for your device.

 

How do I know if I Have Cerumen Impaction?

Unfortunately, because cerumen impaction shares so many symptoms with so many other conditions, it's incredibly difficult to diagnose it without a visual exam. Possible symptoms might include:

  • Vertigo

  • Tinnitus

  • Hearing loss

  • Earaches

  • Feeling of 'fullness' in the ears.

  • Itching

 

What Causes Cerumen Impaction? 

As mentioned earlier, the most common cause of impacted cerumen is our tendency to stick foreign objects in our ears in a futile effort to remove earwax. Other conditions that could result in impacted earwax include ear canal disease, Crohn’s, benign tumor growth, etc.

 

Afterword

As always, your audiologist or hearing care professional knows best — if you're experiencing any of the symptoms of cerumen impaction, it can't hurt to schedule an exam.

  

  

  

Do you think you might be suffering from hearing loss? Call or chat today to talk with one of our Hearing Consultants:  

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