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Cleaning Your Child’s Ears

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

There you are, admiring your beautiful child, and suddenly you notice a glob of wax in her ear! You wonder… should I clean it out?  The simple answer is no. The more complex answer is maybe… but only under the direction of your pediatrician.

On the one hand, earwax buildup can be acutely uncomfortable; on the other, cleaning the ear risks causing infection or damaging the baby’s delicate eardrum.

Did you know that earwax is actually beneficial?

Earwax is a helpful and natural part of your body’s defenses. It protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. It’s not known why some people experience earwax blockage or why earwax blockage often occurs in only one ear. The substance  is a combination of several chemicals (including cholesterol) that’s secreted by many of the same glands that help keep the body’s skin moist and hydrated. It’s manufactured in the outer ear canal but carried towards the ear’s edge by the movement of the jaw, taking dirt, dust and other harmful agents along with it.

Earwax varies among different ethnic groups. Among Asians and Native Americans, earwax is flaky and gray. Caucasian and Afro-centric people typically have earwax that is damp and honey- or brown-colored.

Cleaning baby’s delicate ears

Instead of giving into the temptation to grab a Q-tip and gently trying to remove the wax, parents are strongly encouraged to let their baby’s doctors clean the child’s ears during routine wellness visits. They’ll use special instrumentation that won’t prove a danger to puncturing or scratching the eardrum.

If wax buildup becomes a problem, ask your pediatrician for his or her recommended method. This way you can be sure of the procedure. Excessive earwax around the ear canal can put pressure on baby’s eardrum, resulting in balance problems and severe discomfort.

Never insert a cotton swab, your finger, or any other cleaning implement into your child’s ear canal. Even light contact is enough to scratch the eardrum. Moreover, cotton swabs can pack the dirt, dust, and other harmful particulate matter closer to the eardrum, actually increasing the risk of infection.

Some health care item manufacturers promote special bell-shaped swabs for cleaning the baby’s outer ear. While these are safety-tested to present no danger to the child’s inner ear, parents should still use them with caution. Earwax buildup can be slowed simply by keeping the child’s ear and neck area clean. Parents can even use a cotton swab or ball dipped in warm water or peroxide around the ear bud and neck area for maximum cleanliness. Just make sure that none gets inside the ear canal.

There’s an old saying that still holds true today: “Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your (or your child’s) ear!”

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