Here’s a quick quiz: How do you clean a child’s ear canal? Answer: You don’t. "The ear canal is self cleaning," said Paula Dimmitt, a nurse practitioner in the ear, nose and throat (ENT) department at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. "Parents should only wash the outer ear lobes, creases and behind the ears with soap and water."
For those concerned with ear wax, Dimmitt recommends having your ENT specialist clean out a child’s ear canal only if the wax is blocking a good view of the ear drum. "Ear wax is a mixture of ear canal skin cells and dirt," she said. "Cleaning it out removes the ability of the wax to capture the dirt in the ear canal and prevent it from floating down to the ear drum."
Dimmitt also advises parents to never use cotton-tipped applicators in a child’s ear canal. "Cotton-tipped applicators are bigger than your child’s outer ear canal," said Dimmitt. "By rubbing against the wall of the ear canal, applicators flake off the skin cells which create more wax and dries the outer ear canal. They also push the wax onto the eardrum. After repeated applicator insertions, wax buildup fills the entire outer ear canal down to the eardrum and becomes very dry and hard. This could temporarily decrease your child’s hearing."
Keep in mind that children learn from example. "If you use cotton-tipped applicators," she said, "your child will attempt to clean their own ears or their parents’ ears the same way. This can result in the child puncturing an ear drum."