Seth R. Schwartz, M.D., M.P.H., otologist, neurotologist, and medical director for the Listen for Life Center at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, reveals the right ways to treat the sticky stuff.
Leave it alone. Ear glands secrete oils that mix with dead skin cells, creating wax that traps debris that could otherwise migrate to your eardrums and possibly worsen your hearing. Men tend to have harder wax and more ear hairs than women, so you're more likely to get blockages.
Use cotton swabs on the outer ear only. Jam one in your inner ear and you could rupture your eardrum; more commonly, you could scratch the delicate inner ear skin, allowing bacteria in.
Treat wax buildup. If you notice itching, a stuffed-up feeling, or gradually worsening hearing, OTC wax-softening drops and gentle irrigation kits can loosen things up, says Dr. Schwartz. Operative word: gentle. He's heard of patients permanently damaging their ears by shooting a Waterpik up in there!
Don't try candling. Sticking the base of a candle in your ear and having someone light the other end to create a vacuum to suck out wax not only doesn't work, but you risk getting burned.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US