What should I do about my child’s ear wax?

Ear wax… it’s so gross but so good, so put the Q-tip down.
Looking into a child’s ear is just one of those things a pediatrician does every day. Some children have ears that are easy to examine, some have small ear canals leading back to the eardrum, while many others have THE WAX!
earIt is very common for a parent to apologize for the wax in their child’s ear. Why? It does not offend me. It is normal, natural, and protective for your child’s ear. It is supposed to be there. You don’t apologize for the fact that your child breathes air, so don’t feel the need to apologize for this. It does not make any healthcare professional think you are less of a parent or indicate how “clean” your child is.  You may see dark brown wax, yellow wax, or no wax at all. The type and amount of wax in your child’s ear is inherited. You can’t control it.
LEAVE the WAX ALONE! It helps prevent infection. I know it is really tempting to stick a cotton swab in there and get out a chunk of that gooey brown gunk, but it is better for your child to leave it alone. It is fine to wipe out the ear with a wet cloth but leave the inside of their little ear canal just as it is.
Why?
There are several common complications of attempting to remove ear wax.
1) Even with gentle use you can irritate the canal and make it more prone to infections such as otitis externa also known as “swimmer’s ear”
2) If your child moves even a little you may accidentally perforate their ear drum. If that happens it is very painful, will bleed, and may require surgery for repair.
3) Your child will be more likely to stick a swab in their own ear which can end badly.
4) You may unintentionally create a plug of wax deep in the ear , known as ear wax impaction. This can block the ear drum and be very difficult to remove.
Remember the wax is your friend. If you are concerned that your child’s ear wax is a problem discuss alternative removal methods with your doctor.
Kirstin Lee, M.D. About Kirstin Lee, M.D.

Kirstin Abel Lee, M.D. is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and an Instructor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. She received her undergraduate education at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine. Kirstin completed her residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She is board certified in Pediatrics and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her interests include healthy living for children and families, emergency preparedness, and medical ethics. She is the mother of one boy age 2 years and enjoys cooking, running, and time with friends and family.

Connect with Dr. Kirstin Lee on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs and.

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