How to Clean an Infants Ears

Every human being, even newborns, have earwax. Also called cerumen, this is a waxy substance that comes from the ceruminous glands in the inner ear and is meant to trap dirt, dust or other matter that might harm the eardrum, if allowed to travel that far into the ear. In this way, earwax is vital to having ears that are healthy. Sometimes, however, earwax can build up and start to cause problems. New parents often have a lot of questions about how to care for their newborn and may not always know how to approach cleaning an infant’s ears. Parents may be scared by admonitions not to insert anything into their baby’s ears for fear of rupturing the eardrum and are now worried that there isn’t a safe way to do it. But, while apprehension is normal, you can clean your infant’s ears without any risk of harm.

The first rule of thumb for how to clean a baby’s ears is not to put anything like a cotton swab or Q-tip into the ear canal. It can cause damage to the eardrum and, since babies can be unpredictably squirmy, it is a recipe for trouble. It is also important to know that generally infants don’t have a problem with wax buildup in the ears. If there is an unusual amount of discharge or buildup in the ears, then you should speak to a pediatrician since it may be a symptom of a ear infection or other illness. Also, do not try any homeopathic or “old wives’ tales” remedies for ear wax either. You should not put anything into a baby’s ears unless it has been discussed and approved by their pediatrician. There are many things out there that may be safe for an adult to use but are certainly not safe for a baby.

If there is earwax buildup or drainage on the outside of the ear, this is easy to clean at home. The best method is to take a warm and wet washcloth and gently clean away any earwax that appears on the outer ear. This is very gentle and will not harm your baby at all. If you believe there is also a wax buildup inside the ear, ask your pediatrician to check and to suggest options. Most doctors will suggest that it is okay to trickle warm water into the baby’s ear to loosen wax as long as you immediately turn the baby over to that side and let the water drain back out. Failure to allow the water to drain from the ear can cause “swimmer’s ear” which is very painful for an infant. Always check with the child’s doctor before doing this since there may be no wax problem in their ear canal at all.

While adults are recommended to get their ears cleaned by a doctor annually, this is not the case for infants. Since they generally have less earwax than an adult, there is not a set suggestion for how often they need to have their ears cleaned. This should be handled on a case by case basis. Visual examination of the ear should provide enough information to determine if an ear cleaning is necessary. Also, be aware of your baby’s behavior. Earwax congestion can lead to discomfort or a reduction in hearing. If you see your baby rubbing at their ears, but they don’t have a fever, which is typical for an ear infection, they may need to have their ears cleaned. If you notice that your baby is not responding to soft noises in the same way as usual, it is time to get their ears checked as they may need to be cleaned.

Typically, it is not necessary to do more than washing the outside of your baby’s ears during bathing to keep their ears free of wax buildup. If earwax does start to present a problem, then there are some things you can do to manage the situation. The first is to make sure your infant is properly hydrated. Earwax becomes thicker and more difficult to manage if the baby is dehydrated. When you take your baby to the pediatrician for a routine checkup, ask him/her to check and clean your baby’s ears. The pediatrician will be able to advise you of things you can do to help the situation. If you are in doubt about anything regarding your baby, the best solution is to ask the doctor.