Videos for these products are soaring in popularity on social media, but doctors recommend cleaning your ears in a much less invasive way
A person doing ear candling.
By Laura Murphy
Ah, TikTok, home of makeup tutorials, lip-syncing tunes, cute animal content and—earwax removal videos?
Yes, it’s true: That goopy amber stuff on your For You page is coming out of someone’s ear canal. And if you find that you’re weirdly into it, you’re not alone.
Earwax removal content is soaring in popularity on TikTok; the hashtag #earwax has racked up thousands of videos, collectively reaching 8.1 billion views (graphic material at that link). The content ranges from in-office extractions performed by ear, nose, and throat doctors to at-home videos of people using various tools to get the sticky stuff out.
But it’s more than just a fad. According to a report on hearing by the World Health Organization, some 10 percent of children and 5 percent of adults have impacted earwax. And over 50 percent of older adults may be affected. Impacted earwax can affect hearing, and it’s even more pronounced in those who may be experiencing other forms of hearing loss.
All of this adds up to a boom in earwax removal products—and the options seem endless.
There’s the Axel Glade Spade—a tiny spade equipped with a camera that allows users to watch via an app on their phone as they scoop the wax from the ear canal. There are irrigation kits that are purported to flush the earwax out. Or you could try to flush your ear canal out with a syringe instead.
There’s something that looks like a drill that’s claimed to gently remove earwax by rotating it out. There’s ear candling. There’s a device with a tiny loop on the end—kind of like lasso for your earwax. And of course, there are eardrops (sold under brand names like Debrox and Murine) that are used to soften earwax, making subsequent removal easier.
Is It Safe to Remove Earwax Yourself?
So which of these products should you buy? Hold on, says Oliver Adunka, MD, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon specializing in neurotology at Wexner Medical Center of Ohio State University in Columbus. “None of the devices really work,” he says. “And some of them are flat-out dangerous.”
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, “The physical removal of earwax should only be performed by a healthcare provider.”
Experts advise against putting a cotton swab in your ear.
Photo: Getty Images
Axel Glade Spade
Turns out, the tiny spade in this kit can scratch the skin of the ear canal, causing infection or bleeding, according to Adunka.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation advises against putting anything in your ear: “[Don’t] put cotton swabs, hair pins, car keys, toothpicks, or other things in your ear. These can all injure your ear and may cause a cut in your ear canal, poke a hole in your ear drum, or hurt the hearing bones, leading to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing, and other symptoms of ear injury.”
Tvidler Ear Wax Remover
While this tool—which looks like a drill—may appear promising, it’s important to keep in mind that ear canals aren’t a straight cylinder.
“You could wind up poking yourself,” Adunka says.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation advises against irrigation for people who have had ear surgery or a hole in their eardrum. One study has shown that bulb irrigation kits are effective for at-home ear removal for some adults but warns that these results cannot be extrapolated to young children.
Emily J. Taylor, AuD, F-AAA, audiologist and owner of Taylor Listening Center in Baltimore, says that at-home ear irrigation is a relatively safe option for people to try at home if they wish.
But, she cautions, “water should be body-temperature, because if it is too hot or too cold it can cause nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) and dizziness.”
According to the FDA, ear candles (shown at the top of the page) are “hollow cones that are about 10 inches long and made from a fabric tube soaked in beeswax, paraffin, or a mixture of the two.” The agency also says that ear candles are being marketed as treatments for a variety of conditions, including, “earwax buildup, sinus infections, hearing loss, headaches, colds, flu, and sore throats.”
Proponents of ear candling claim that it pulls wax and “debris” from your ear, by placing a lit, hollow, cone-shaped candle into the ear canal. Ear candling fans believe that the heat from the candle creates a suction that pulls out all the gunk from your ear canal. But does it work?
“That is a myth,” Adunka says. “A candle over your ear cannot magically clean out your head.”
Not only that, but it can be dangerous. The FDA has warned that ear candling can cause burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear; start a fire; plug the ears with candle wax; cause bleeding; puncture the eardrum; and cause patients to delay seeking medical care for underlying conditions.
Eardrops, some of which are sold under the brand name Debrox, earned a nod of approval from the doctor.
“This is something we recommend if the wax is particularly hard,” Adunka says. “It will soften it up and then make extraction—which should only be done in the doctor’s office—much easier.”
But Adunka says that for most people, this isn’t necessary.
“The ears naturally clean themselves, pushing the wax to the outer ear,” he says. “The best way to keep your ears clean is to gently wipe them with the edge of a towel after stepping out of the shower.”
Why Are Earwax Removal Videos So Popular?
So how do you explain billions of TikTok views? What gives?
“People like watching gross stuff,” Taylor says. “And I think there’s something satisfying about seeing something go from dirty to clean.”
Taylor—or @Dr_Ear_Wax on TikTok—started playing around with TikTok during the pandemic when her practice was closed. In September, the office posted its first official video and since then, its audience has grown to 870,000 followers. She doesn’t only post earwax removals. In fact, her passion is sharing information on how to prevent noise-induced hearing loss by wearing hearing protection, something she believes most young people don’t know a lot about.
But when it comes to earwax removal at home, she tends to agree with Adunka.
“If any of these tools worked well, I would be using them in my office,” she says. “I think people should remember that old saying—don’t stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.”
Taylor also thinks that some of the popularity behind earwax removal videos might be linked to the ubiquity of ear buds.
“When people take out their ear buds and see wax on them,” she says. “They might think that their ears are dirty. But they’re actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing—self-cleaning. The skin in the ear canal is the only skin in the entire body that migrates, pushing the wax outward. And wax helps keep debris from going into the ear canal and damaging your eardrum.”
So Who Needs to Use Earwax Removal Products?
According to Taylor, most people do not overproduce earwax. But if you have muffled hearing, feel pain or discomfort when you’re moving your ear around (such as manipulating your ear lobe with your hand), or have a history of ear pain or stuffiness, you may be one of the few people who do.
“If a patient comes to the office and I am unable to remove the earwax safely, then I recommend a course of Debrox three times a day for three days and then a follow-up to finish the extraction,” Taylor says. “If you are of the minority that produces too much wax, you should be seeing an audiologist on a semiregular basis.”
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