Nurse’s Notes – Ear Care

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Ears are a very special organs of the body. The ears allow us to hear and assist with our balance and coordination. By utilizing the wrong methods to clean these precious organs, you risk injury and infection. Earwax is the body’s self-cleaning mechanism. Earwax is produced by the glands in the skin and is beneficial in repelling water, keeping the skin inside from becoming dry and itchy, and protects against infection by trapping dust and germs.

Much of the time, earwax falls out on its own, cleaning the ears as it is removed. As the wax builds up inside the ear, it dries up and moves out of the ear, bringing dust and debris out with it.

Cotton tipped applications (Q-tips) are good for cleaning the external ear (pinna—the part that you can see), but are not advised within the internal ear. No sharp objects should be used either (there is nothing more disgusting that seeing someone cleaning their ears with pencils/pens, bobby/ safety pins, keys or paperclips!!!) A lot of times, these sharp objects dig the skin inside the ear, making them more prone to infection.

If there is excessive earwax build-up, a partial hearing loss, ringing in the ear, an earache or feeling of fullness in the ear may result. A physician may be able to flush the ear (an ear irrigation) or there are commercial products to try before contacting the physician. Mineral oil, baby oil, or non-prescription earwax removal liquid (such as Murine) can be placed into a medicine dropper. With the affected ear pointed upward, fill the ear with the wax softener, one drop at a time. Keep the ear tilted for five minutes; then place a cloth over the ear and turn that side of the head down, allowing the liquid to drip out. Repeat, if necessary, one to two times per day for several days. For more information, see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/.

There are commercial ear candles for wax removal. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to consumers to steer clear of ear candles. Marketers of the ear candles claim that the warmth of the ear candles created by the lit device produces suction that draws wax and impurities out of the ear canal. The FDA states that the ear candles place the recipient at risk for starting fires, burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear (OUCH!), injury to the ear from dripping wax, ears plugged by candle wax, bleeding, and perforating the eardrum.

Occasionally, objects can get stuck in the ear. Small earrings may fall into the ear canal, especially if the pinna is pierced, instead of or in addition to the lobe. Children may also place a wide variety of objects into the ear. Whether it is a pencil eraser, a Barbie doll shoe, or a bean, what may have gone in easily, will not come out easily. Occasionally, an insect may fly into the canal and get stuck. If the insect is still alive, you can attempt to kill the insect by filling the ear canal with mineral oil. Only a physician should attempt to remove any foreign object (eraser, earring, or insect). The physician will have the proper equipment, the ideal lighting, and following removal of the object, may prescribe antibiotics if needed.

Taking good care of your ears may prevent possible problems in the future!