Just like adults, babies have earwax that protects the ear canal. While some ear wax is harmless, a buildup may cause irritation and interfere with hearing. Here are some of the best ways to safely clean your baby’s ears.
Cleaning your baby’s ears might seem like a simple task. Just grab a cotton swab, wipe out the ear, and voila! Wrong!
When my son was born, I purchased Q-tips specifically designed for an infant’s small, delicate ears. I later learned that you shouldn’t use cotton swabs at all in your baby’s ears. In fact, I discovered you don’t even really need to clean out the ear wax unless it’s causing a problem.
“You don’t need to remove ear wax from your baby’s ears. It usually falls out on its own,” says Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler, authors of Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week. “You can clean the outer opening of the ear with a washcloth, but don’t try to clean inside the ear.”
A mild to moderate buildup of earwax is normal in children of all ages. The majority of time, earwax does not cause a problem. However, a buildup of wax can cause irritation to the ear canal.
While rare, too much earwax can result in an impaction causing side effects like a feeling of fullness, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), itching, and temporary hearing loss. Of course, your baby won’t be able to tell you what symptoms he’s experiencing. Instead, he may exhibit signs of discomfort, such as unexplained crying or tugging at the ears.
What the Experts Say
“Here’s some advice about removing ear wax: don’t do it! Wax protects the ear by trapping dust and debris before they move further into the ear canal.”
The Kidfixer Baby Book, Dr. Stuart Altman
“Clean the exterior of the ear only, using a face cloth moistened with warm water. Any wax in the ear will eventually work its way out.”
24/7 Baby Doctor, Victoria Mcevory
“Ears have their own self-cleaning mechanism. Use cotton buds to clean the outside of the ears and the entrance hole. Attempting to clean the inside will push earwax deeper in and there is a risk of hurting the baby.”
The ABC of Child Care, Ronald J. Parker
“Never put cotton buds in your baby’s ears. Cotton buds can damage the sensitive lining of the ear canal, making the ears more prone to infection.”
Pregnancy for Dummies, Sarah Jarvis, Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman
“It is inadvisable for you or your doctor to use any kind of instrument to remove wax forcibly from your child’s ears, even a cotton swab. This is dangerous and unnecessary.”
How to Raise a Healthy Child, Robert S. Mendelsohn
The Importance of Earwax
While most of us would rather do without, ear wax plays a critical role in ear health. Your baby’s ear is made up of three main sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The ear canal is the tube that runs from the outer ear to the middle ear, and the part of the ear that produces waxy oil known as cerumen, or earwax.
Earwax has several important functions. First, it protects the ear canal through lubrication. Its moisturizing property prevents the ears from feeling dry and itchy.
Second, the wax is able to trap dirt, dust, and other irritants that can enter your ear. Without wax, these irritants could continue further into your ear, causing infection or damage. Finally, earwax contains special chemicals that fight off infections.
Cleaning Baby’s Ears – on the Outside
While cotton swabs are out, most experts agree that it’s safe to use a washcloth to clean the outside of a child’s ears. Follow these simple steps:
- Wet a clean washcloth with lukewarm water.
- Squeeze out any excess water from the washcloth to prevent moisture from entering the ear canal.
- Using one corner of the washcloth, gently wipe around the outer ear and opening to remove any wax debris. Do not put the washcloth into the ear.
If you are concerned about a wax buildup in your baby’s ear, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Avoid any over-the-counter ear cleaning products or tools, as these can potentially damage the inner ear.
Most babies do not have an abundance of earwax, so if you notice recurrent buildups, take your child for a checkup.