Is Earwax Removal Safe?

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I've heard that using a cotton swab to remove my child's earwax isn't a good idea. Is this true? And, if so, how can I clean my child's ears safely?
- Arya

That's true — it's not a good idea to stick anything into a child's ears. Doing so raises the risk of contracting an infection or permanently damaging eardrums and hearing. Regular bathing should be enough to keep earwax at normal levels.

The waxy substance (called cerumen) that the ears make performs important functions. It provides a coating for the skin lining the ear canal, which helps keep the canal skin from getting too wet or dry, which helps prevent irritation or infection.

It also traps dirt, dust, and other particles, keeping them from injuring or irritating the eardrum. While some people have more earwax than others — just as some people tend to sweat more than others — in general, the ear makes just as much wax as it needs.

In some cases, a hardened lump of wax can form in the canal, which can make it difficult to hear in that ear or even trap bacteria and cause an infection. If this happens, don't stick anything inside the ear to try to remove the wax yourself. Doing so could cause permanent hearing damage.

If your child needs to have earwax removed, a medical professional should remove it in an office or clinical setting. For hearing problems or pain or irritation in or near the ears, talk with your doctor, who can examine your child to determine the cause.

And while earwax remedies are sold in stores, it's important not to use anything inside a child's ears unless told to do so by a doctor.

Reviewed by: Patrick Barth, MD
Date reviewed: June 2011

Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteAmerican Academy of Audiology The American Academy of Audiology, the world's largest professional organization of, by and for more than 10,000 audiologists, is dedicated to providing quality hearing care to the public.

Related Articles

Middle Ear Infections Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they're treated.
Eardrum Injuries A "popped" eardrum is more than just painful - it can sometimes lead to hearing loss. Learn about eardrum injuries and how to prevent them.
Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa) Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal caused by many types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent it.
Hearing Evaluation in Children Hearing problems can be treated if they're caught early, so it's important to get your child's hearing screened early and evaluated regularly.
Dealing With Earwax Earwax helps protect the eardrum and fight infection. Parents shouldn't attempt to remove earwax at home, as doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child's hearing.
A to Z: Impacted Cerumen Learn more about imnpacted earwax build-up, which can cause temporary hearing loss and ear pain.
Ear Injuries Ear injuries not only can affect a child's hearing, but sense of balance, too. That's because our ears also help keep us steady on our feet.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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