Hydrogen Peroxide for Earwax

Hydrogen peroxide is commonly found in pharmacies and stores selling personal care products. It is an inexpensive and potentially helpful tool for loosening up problematic earwax that can cause hearing loss and tinnitus and flushing your ears if you believe you have mild impaction or buildup.  But how safe is hydrogen peroxide, and what are some considerations for its use?

How to use hydrogen peroxide to remove built-up wax

Hydrogen peroxide is best used by inserting a few drops of the solution directly into the ear canal and allowing it to sit for a few minutes by tilting your head so the treated ear faces the ceiling. You may hear fizzing or bubbling, which is perfectly normal. Then, tilt your ear down toward a sink or basin and allow the liquid to drain. You can fill a bulb syringe, made specifically for the ear, with warm water and flush the ear a few times. While the treatment may be working, it may not be readily apparent – don’t expect to see chunks of earwax dropping out.

There are a few considerations here. First, filling the entire ear canal with hydrogen peroxide is unnecessary. 4 to 6 drops should do just fine. Second, it is important not to leave the hydrogen peroxide solution in your ear for more than a few minutes. While the 3% concentration sold in stores is not dangerous, anything more than 6% or so can potentially irritate the skin.  Also, peroxide becomes water and oxygen once it reacts with substances like protein and fat.  Water isn’t great for the ear canal skin, and prolonged exposure can lead to infection (swimmer’s ear) by breaking down the skin’s natural protective function.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several circumstances when you should not use hydrogen peroxide in your ear. These include:

– A perforated eardrum or a history of problems with your eardrum.
– If you have a recent or active ear infection.
– If tubes were placed in your ears as an adult or even as a child.
– If you are experiencing ear pain.

In any of these circumstances, the removal of wax should be performed by a qualified ENT like Dr. Boger to ensure you do not experience problems and to treat any infection or other issues.

There’s nothing wrong with warming the hydrogen peroxide before you drop it in your ear. Just pay special attention to the temperature of the hydrogen peroxide, as it can easily scald your ear if heated in the microwave for too long.  Body temperature or slightly warmer is adequate.  Warmed liquid can increase the effectiveness of breaking down the earwax and allow it to be removed more easily.  Room temperature liquids placed in the ear can cause temporary dizziness which subsides as they warm to body temperature.

You can irrigate gently and with care. Even bulb syringes made to irrigate the ear can cause problems if misused. Use warm water and flush the ear with short, gentle bursts.  Using too much force can cause trapped water behind the wax, or even a perforation of the ear drum and infection.  If there is any pain, STOP.

In most cases, if your hearing gets worse immediately after home treatment after using due caution and following directions, it’s likely that the earwax has moved and occluded your ear canal. Typically, this is not something to worry about, and this will often resolve on its own shortly after treatment or with further home treatment within a few days. If you feel significant pain or pressure after performing the in-home earwax cleaning, it’s very important that you visit your ENT to assess for possible infection and/or damage to the ear canal or eardrum.

Earwax is beneficial to the health of your ear. While it may seem disgusting, earwax protects our ear canals from bacteria and fungi that could otherwise cause infections. Constantly cleaning your ears with hydrogen peroxide can cause problems. It can strip your ear of important earwax that is serving its normal beneficial function, and it can also irritate the sensitive skin of your ear canal. Accordingly, we only recommend using an at-home earwax removal regimen with peroxide as needed, but no more than once every month or so. If you are experiencing constant and severe blockages, this is a good reason to visit your ENT. Similarly, if you are not experiencing any relief after several tries over a few days, your hearing concern may require a complete medical evaluation.

The Bottom Line

Hydrogen peroxide is a relatively quick and inexpensive way to treat earwax at home. Just be sure to avoid the temptation to overtreat and speak to your doctor if in doubt. Ultimately, while we want you to experience relief, we also don’t want you to damage your ear in any way.