Cotton swabs are standard in many family bathrooms. They’re handy for a variety of grooming needs, but often are used to remove earwax — a common but potentially hazardous practice.
While some people have more earwax than others, in general the ear makes just as much wax as it needs. In some rare cases, kids’ ears do make excess earwax. If it interferes with hearing or causes pain or discomfort, it needs to be removed by a doctor. But only a medical professional can determine whether earwax should be removed and rule out other issues that could be causing symptoms.
Parents — and kids — shouldn’t attempt to remove earwax at home, even with remedies that promise to be safe and effective. Doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child’s hearing.
Earwax is made in the outer ear canal, the area between the fleshy part of the ear on the outside of the head and the middle ear. The medical term for earwax is cerumen.
Earwax has many important functions. It helps protect the eardrum and ear canal by providing a waterproof lining for the ear canal, helping to keep it dry and preventing germs from causing infection. It also traps dirt, dust, and other particles, keeping them from injuring or irritating the eardrum.
After the wax is produced, it slowly makes its way through the outer ear canal to the opening of the ear. Then it either falls out or comes out during bathing. In most people, the outer ear canal makes earwax all the time, so the canal always has enough wax in it.
In most cases, nothing needs to be done to remove earwax from kids’ ears; regular bathing is enough to keep it at healthy levels.