Health medical editor Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, explains.
Getty ImagesEarwax, while kind of gross, is actually a good thing because its a sticky shield that protects your eardrums from bacteria and dirt. Typically, old wax dries up and falls out or washes away when you bathe. But sometimes buildups do occur and cause mild discomfort or hearing problems. Some people just produce more wax than others; we dont know why, but its not a sign of illness.
As for removing it? Dont try to dig it out using cotton swabs or anything else, for that matter. You risk perforating your eardrum or trapping water or dirt deep in your ear as the wax gets pushed in farther, which can cause infection. Use swabs only on the outer part of your inner ear and wipe away any visible wax with a warm, damp washcloth.
If wax buildup impairs your hearing or causes any pain, see your doctor. She can safely remove buildup with a bulb syringe or a small instrument called a curette, or she may prescribe ear drops or an over-the-counter product designed to help loosen hard wax.
What about ear candles? These thin, hollow tubes are inserted into the ear and then lit to supposedly extract excess wax. Theres no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness, and you could end up burning your ear or eardrum if you use them.