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Do you need earwax removal?

Perhaps wiggling a cotton tip in each ear is part of your daily ablutions.

Perhaps you subscribe to your grandmother's remedy of cleaning your ears with warmed oil or delicate wire implements.

Or maybe you've seen an ad for professional earwax removal and wondered if you should include it in your semi-annual round-up of visits to specialists like doctors and dentists.

But do our ears actually need manual cleaning? And if so, what's the best way to go about it?

What even is earwax?

Earwax, which has the technical name cerumen, is a mixture of secretions, including sebum and oily sweat, along with dead cells and other particles that might have found their way into your ear, such as dust.

And while it can be gratifying to clean that earwax out, it's actually usually a sign of a healthy ear, according to Sean Flanagan, an ear, nose and throat specialist at St Vincent's Hospital.

"Earwax is good. It's got antibacterial properties, it's antifungal, it's a protective layer over the ear canal," Dr Flanagan said.

"So if you're overcleaning it for the sake of cleaning it, you're going to run into more problems than less."

The reason earwax reappears has to do with the way the cells in your ear canal behave: they slowly shuffle from the ear drum out to the external part of the ear, carrying earwax and any other dirt that may have gathered along with it.

Your jaw movement also helps this natural conveyor belt work.

"Physiologically it's quite amazing that the skin of the ear canal has a self-migratory ability," Dr Flanagan said.

"If left on its own, it should just migrate slowly out of the ear canal."

Being overzealous with cotton tips and other cleaning implements that are small enough to stick into your ear can actually cause a blockage, interrupting that natural outward movement within the ear.

"I'm sure that most people just do a gentle clean around the opening of the ears and don't stick it down the ear canal at all. So most of the time it's probably fine," Dr Flanagan said

"But it's when you're really reaching down the ear canal — the analogy's like packing gunpowder into a cannon, jamming skin and wax and other debris down and down the ear canal, and that's when it starts to become a potential problem.

Why would I ever need earwax removal?

Your ears' natural self-cleaning mechanism is impressive, but it doesn't always work.

There are several reasons some people need their ears cleaned professionally, and some groups of people who are more likely to need it than others.

One of the reasons is mentioned above: cleaning your ears by sticking in objects like cotton tips can prevent the earwax from moving out on its own.

Other physical objects may also block the earwax naturally clearing.

"If you're wearing hearing aids or if you're using a lot of ear plugs or ear buds or noise protection or cotton tips where you're pushing things down, that tends to interrupt that normal migratory quality of the ear canal," Dr Flanagan said.

Travis Reeves is a contributing writer for PR Now Magazine

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