Health Maintenance > Ear wax

Ear wax

Ear wax (cerumen) generally does not pose a medical problem, even if the amount seems excessive.  It is unusual for excessive ear wax to cause hearing problems in children (although this is a more common problem in adults).  Excessive ear wax does not cause middle ear infections, and is only rarely involved in swimmer’s ear.  So there’s usually not much reason for parents to clean their children’s ears.

Folklore would have us clean ears with a cotton swab or Q-tip.  Unfortunately, this is a bad way to clean the ears; usually the cotton swab simply pushes the wax farther back into the ear canal, which may form a ball that is difficult to remove.  I don’t recommend cleaning ears with cotton swabs.

Sometimes I will recommend rinsing the ears regularly, since removing excess ear wax might allow me to see eardrums that might otherwise be difficult to examine.  If your baby gets excessive amounts of ear wax, I suggest that you run clean water into the ears at bath time, to loosen the wax and perhaps flush some of it out.  Folklore says that water in the ear canals might cause an ear infection, but fortunately this is not true.

Medical treatments such as Debrox (from your pharmacy) can be done to soften and flush the wax several times a week, but you have to be diligent about it.

If you really want to get "down and dirty" with the earwax, check out this detailed article.  He recommends using hydrogen peroxide with a battery-operated WaterPik:

     –  David Epstein, MD