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How should I remove the ear wax from my child’s ear?
Q: My 20-month-old has moist ear wax in his right ear. How do I remove it? Do I take him to an ENT specialist or use cotton-tipped swabs to remove it at home?
A: Alpa, ear wax is actually good—it’s one of the body’s natural protections against infections of the ear canal. Some children produce only small amounts of ear wax, while other children produce larger amounts of it.

Ear wax can become a problem if you stick a cotton swab deep inside your baby’s ear canal and pack the ear wax in deeper, scrape the ear canal, or puncture the ear drum which can lead to an ear infection or hearing problem. So don’t stick cotton swabs—or anything sharp such as a bobby pin, toothpick or paper clip—inside your baby’s ear canal. There’s an old saying: “Don’t stick anything in your ear that’s smaller than your elbow.” You can use a cotton swab to clean the ear wax only when it comes out of the ear canal into the outer part of the ear.

Ask your pediatrician to look in your baby’s ears to tell you if you need to do anything else about his ear wax. If your son has hard ear wax packed deep in the ear canal, the pediatrician can clear it out for you, either by scooping it out with a special instrument or washing it out with a syringe or gentle water jet. You can also try to loosen up his ear wax at home by placing a few drops of mineral or baby oil, glycerin or over-the-counter ear wax removal drops in your son’s ear. If you put these drops in his ear before bed for a couple of days, the ear wax will drip out of his ear during the night.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician