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Ear Wax

​​​​Ear wax is a substance that protects the ear canal. It is produced by glands in the outer ear canal and is a mixture of debris and fluid secreted by the glands. Ear wax prevents small particles from reaching the ear canal and eardrum.

Children tend to produce more ear wax than adults, and the amount of ear wax produced varies per child – it can even vary per ear. Ear wax ranges in color from light to dark brown or orange, and the texture can be soft or hard.

Cleaning the Ear Wax

Ear wax usually self-drains from the ear, so it is often advised to leave the wax alone. If there is an excessive wax build-up outside the canal or if a child begins complaining of ear discomfort, a parent may need to clean their child’s ear. This can be done at home, but it is advised to seek medical treatment for proper and safe ear wax removal. If your child has ear tubes, you should not attempt cleaning the wax at all.

If a parent needs to clean the ear at home, Boys Town Pediatrics recommends:

  • Washing outside the ear gently with a wet washcloth.
  • Using over-the-counter drops that breakdown and remove the wax. Apply drops 10-15 minutes prior to bathing. During the bath or shower, let warm water run into the ears and wash out the canal. Be sure to dry the outside of the ear with the towel.

It is not advised to put cotton swabs or Q-Tips inside the ear to remove the wax. When placed inside the ear, these items can push the wax deep into the canal, creating impaction or scraping the ear drum and leading to infection.

When to See a Physician

Too much ear wax can cause blockage, infection or hearing problems. If your child is experiencing excessive ear wax production, schedule an appointment to speak with a physician. The physician will evaluate the ear and use appropriate techniques to safely remove the wax and ease discomfort.

  • Ear Wax

    Jane M. Emanuel, M.D.


    Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute

    Ear wax is actually stuff that should be in your ears, it's a protective substance. There are special glands in your ear canal, the outer one third of it actually, that secrete ear wax.

    It's protective, it's anti-bacterial, it is a lubricant but it repels water. Basically, it's a substance that your body knows it should have there to protect your ear canals from invaders, water, bacteria, etc. It keeps your ears healthy.

    Does ear wax cause any problems?

    I think people think ear wax is more of a problem and a huge hygiene issue but ear wax is best left alone and not removed or excessively treated. It's like most things in our body, it's there for a reason. I see more patients with problems because they've tried to manipulate or do something with their ear wax than people who just leave it alone.

    Can I use Q-tips to clean my ears?

    I usually tell people that Q-tips are good for giving me business. They are not a part of necessary ear hygiene and that's hard to get people to buy into. They get overused and what they do is push the wax down the ear canal.

    If you think about your ear canal, it's a tube and there is a wall at the end, and you're just pushing it in. So, I see more troubles from Q-tips than I ever see benefit from Q-tips.

    Also, I see a moderate amount of eardrum damage or ear canal damage from Q-tips. They are not anything we like to see our patients using.

    When should my ears be cleaned?

    The only time they need to be cleaned is when they're plugged up and you can't hear. Then they should be cleaned out. If you have that, at least, come to a medical provider the first time it happens and let them diagnose and say here's the problem. Often times, it's a one-time thing. Clean them out and you're good to go, don't use Q-tips and you'll be fine.

    If you have a recurrent problem, then usually the doctor will say, here's a regiment I want you to use at home, sometimes over-the-counter products, etc.

    In general, I don't have people use the over-the-counter products because it just makes your ear canal wet, squishy, and it sometimes plugs up just as much. 

Ear, Nose and Throat