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Health Information For Parents
Earwax is made in the outer ear canal, the area between the fleshy part of the ear on the outside of the head and the middle ear. The medical term for earwax is cerumen (seh-ROO-mun).
Earwax has some important jobs. It:
The wax makes its way through the outer ear canal to the opening of the ear. Then it either falls out or comes out during bathing. In most people, the outer ear canal makes earwax all the time, so the canal always has enough wax in it.
Usually, there’s no need to remove earwax because it comes out by itself. Sticking anything into a child’s ears raises the risk of infection or damage to the ear canal or eardrum. Cotton swabs are handy for a variety of grooming needs, but should not be used to remove earwax. In most cases, regular bathing is enough to keep it at healthy levels.
While some people have more earwax than others, in general the ear makes as much wax as it needs. Rarely, kids’ ears do make too much earwax. And sometimes earwax can build up and block the ear canal, especially when pushed in by a finger, cotton swab, or other object. This is called “impaction.” If it affects hearing or causes pain or discomfort, a doctor can remove it.
Parents — and kids — shouldn’t attempt to remove earwax at home, even with remedies that promise to be safe and effective. Doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child’s hearing.
If your child complains of ear discomfort and you see earwax in the ear, it’s OK to wipe the outside of the ear with a washcloth. But don’t use a cotton swab, a finger, or anything else to poke inside the ear. It could damage the delicate ear canal and eardrum, or pack the wax in even further.
Check with your doctor before using an over-the-counter earwax removal treatment.
Call the doctor if your child has:
In infants and toddlers, tugging at the ears can be sign of an ear problem.
Sometimes doctors will remove earwax:
Earwax removal usually is done in the doctor’s office. There might be a little discomfort but it isn’t painful. If a child can’t sit still or cooperate, the doctor can remove it in an operating room while the child is under general anesthesia.
Doctors can remove earwax in different ways, including:
Removal takes only a few minutes. If there’s a sign of infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops.
Ear candling has gained a lot of attention as a home remedy for earwax removal. But it hasn’t been proved to be safe or effective, and can be dangerous.
In ear candling, one end of a cone-type device is inserted into the ear canal and the other end is set on fire. The idea is that the fire and the cone form a vacuum and extract the wax. But trying this at home carries a high risk of:
Whenever you have any concerns about your child’s ears or hearing, call your doctor.
Is it OK to use cotton swabs to remove earwax?
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.
A “popped” eardrum is more than just painful – it can sometimes lead to hearing loss. Learn about ruptured eardrums and how to prevent them.
Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with the ear, nerves connected to the ear, or the part of the brain that controls hearing. Someone who has hearing loss may be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. To learn more, read this article for kids.
How do you take care of your ears? Find out in this article for kids.
Cochlear implant can help many kids with severe hearing loss. Find out how they work and who can get them.
Why do our ears make earwax? Find out in this article for kids.
Hearing problems can be overcome if they’re caught early, so it’s important to get your child’s hearing screened early and checked regularly.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal caused by many types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent it.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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