When earwax builds up in your ears, it can be irritating, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Most earwax is beneficial and harmless, but some people do experience a buildup of earwax to the point that it blocks the ear. This is known as an impaction. Beyond affecting your hearing, it can cause pain, dizziness, tinnitus and even possibly ear infections. There are ways to clean your ears safely, but many of the popularly known methods are anything but safe. Here are three that you need to avoid.

Using any small objects to clean your ear

Some people regularly attempt to clean their ears with cotton buds. Not only is this often ineffective, it’s also potentially very dangerous. Though you might see some wax on the bud and believe it’s cleaned, the truth is that it pushes more wax deeper. This can lead to or exacerbate an impaction. What’s more, you have a great risk of irritating the inner ear or puncturing your eardrum. As you might imagine, attempting to use the blunt end of a needle or any other self-cleaning tools can be even more dangerous. You can use a cloth to wipe the exterior of the ear, but the common rule of thumb is that if it’s smaller than your elbow, it shouldn’t be anywhere near your ear.

Using an ear candle

A relatively recent practice, by comparison, using an ear candle can be just as dangerous. Hypothetically, this method uses the heat of a melting candle to break down the wax inside your ear. There are hollow, cone-shaped candles even sold specifically for this purpose. However, there have been several cases of people burning their ears when attempting it. What’s more, when the wax melts, droplets can very easily get stuck in your ear. Then you have two kinds of wax in there. In the worst cases, you may end up with a punctured eardrum. What’s more, none of the research on ear candling has shown it to be effective in any way. It’s a practice that is worth avoiding entirely.

Practicing self-irrigation

Compared to the other two methods, self-irrigation isn’t quite as dangerous. However, there are certain risks that make irrigating worth avoiding. First of all, you should avoid irrigating entirely if you have diabetes or a compromised immune system. If you have experienced a ruptured eardrum, it can be significantly more dangerous. What’s more, many people who have attempted to irrigate their own ears fail to do it correctly and end up with swimmer’s ear, which is an infection that usually takes a week or more to clear up with treatment and can be very painful.

The safest way to clean your ears is to see your audiologist. With a range of specialist tools, they can manually clean your ears or irrigate them much more safely thanks to their experience and the fact they can see what they’re doing. If you’re concerned you have an impaction, make an appointment as soon as you can.