Put that Q-tip down! Why you need to leave your earwax alone.

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Did you know that you can’t actually remove earwax with a Q-tip?

Listen up: Ear Nose & Throat Doctors have been preaching the old, "Don't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear" for years. Yet millions of people continue to jab Q-tips and other earwax removal tools into their ears. What gives?

Many people dig around in their ears because they think they need to remove the buildup of earwax, more formally known as "cerumen." According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, earwax isn't actually "wax." It's a "water-soluble mixture of secretions (produced in the outer third of the ear canal), plus hair and dead skin." And believe it or not, that "mixture of secretions" serves a purpose (more on that later).

Approximately 12 million people a year in the U.S. seek medical care for "impacted or excessive cerumen," says the AAO-HNSF. That's why ear, nose & throat doctors are strongly urging (okay, begging) patients not to put cotton swabs in their ears and providing alternative solutions for those who can't quit their ear-picking habits. Keep reading to learn more earwax and all its glory:

1. Earwax is there for a reason. As gross as it may feel, your earwax is actually there to keep your ears clean! Ears are self-cleaning organs, and earwax is what keeps things like water, dust, dirt, and yes, even bugs, out of the eardrum. Earwax also has antibacterial properties, which comes in handy for preventing ear infections.

2. Cotton swabs can do some serious damage. The eardrum isn't tough enough to bang on like a real drum—in fact; it's quite delicate. That means it's very easy for you to puncture the eardrum with something as soft as a Q-tip. And even if you don't fully puncture the eardrum, you could hurt the itty-bitty bones of hearing (the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup) right underneath, which could lead to hearing loss and balance issues.

3. You can't actually remove the wax with a Q-tip. Think about plunging a toilet. When you stick the plunger into the bowl and go to work, you're not really removing the clog—you're just pushing it further into the toilet. Using a cotton swab in your ear is the same concept. The Q-tip doesn't remove the wax. It just pushes the wax further into the ear, which can lead to a blockage or an ear infection.

So, what's an earwax-hating person like you supposed to do? First, skip the home remedies like ear candles or drugstore drops. If you suspect your earwax is causing problems or think you have a blockage, make an appointment with an otolaryngologist, commonly referred to as ENT Specialist. These are physicians who specialize in the ear, nose, and throat, and have special instruments and prescription treatments for earwax buildup.

Think your earwax needs to be checked out by a professional? Contact Dr. Turner Wright ENT at Wright Sinus Choice by calling 956-998-6673 or visiting www.wrightsinuschoice.com.

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