How to Clean Infant Ears

Even before a baby is born, a baby can hear.  Babies hear their parents’ voices, music and the sound of their mothers’ heartbeats.  After birth, babies use their ears to discover their world.  We use their ears to take temperatures and to whisper loving words to them.  Healthy ears lead to proper language development and equilibrium. So, proper care, including cleaning of an infants’ ears are a method of preventing major health issues.

Foreign objects, such as dirt, or build up of things like wax, can  lead to long term problems for your baby.  So, Keeping a baby’s ears clean can prevent problems such as infections and physical damage. 

Dos and Don’ts

It’s important for parents to know about ear health. Knowledge is power when it comes to proper care of your child. For instance, some folks will advise that the best way to handle earwax is not to handle it.  Some ear wax is good for your child.  Ear wax, or cerumen, is one of the body’s natural defenses; however, too much cerumen can lead to problems.  Know the signs that your baby is having problems with their ears.  Check your child’s ears regularly. Check for build up and any changes in the color of your child’s ear.  Also, observe your child’s habits.  Is your child cranky and fiddling with their ear?

Remember wax can build up as a sign of inner irritation. It can block the ear canal. Fishing for wax is not like fishing for gold.  You can do damage to your child if not careful.  Q-tips and other common products are great for outer ear cleaning.  However, if used internally, they could cause eardrum punctures or ruptures.  Fingers are not appropriate to place inside an infant’s ear and like W-tips can often push wax deeper into the ear canal causing blockage.   Suction blubs should be used with caution because they can cause pain and discomfort. If not used properly, the suction bulb can actually injure the middle ear.

General Safe Cleaning Techniques – Cloth and Drops

Cloth
A very common and safe way to clean your baby’s precious little ears is using a damp cloth. Bath time is generally a good time to do this.  During your baby’s bath, ear wax becomes soften and will drain from his or her tiny ears.  During this time, it is natural to check for dirt as well.  Check around the outer parts of your baby’s ear and with your lukeward damp cloth, dab gently.  Be sure to check the type, if any, of ear drainage and that your also dry ears after your child’s bath.  Do not insert the cloth deep into your child’s ear or handle ears to roughly. 

Drops
In some instances, the warm bath may not soften wax that has hardened inside your babies ears. Also, you may be concerned if small granules or a bit of dirt has been caught deep within your child’s ear. You can flush dirt or soften cerumen using drops or ear flushes.  There are a number of over the counter ear drops that can be used.  Be mindful that some over the counter drops can be oily and may not flow as deeply into the ear as necessary.  Do not substitute bath water as your ear flush.  Many families opt for home mixtures of hydrogen peroxide and water as an ear flush.  

When using ear drops or flushes, you can try using this method during bath time, but it’s not necessary. Just be sure your baby is lying on his or her side.  Warm your drops or flush and place the drops/flush in your child ears.  For drops, follow the instructions carefully.  The goal is to allow the drops or flush to flow deeply into the ear.  Be patient and allow the drops time to soften the wax or loosen any stray dirt.  This could mean waiting five minutes or so.  Let the drops or flush flow out and the ear to drain.  Parents can repeat this process a few times to insure all foreign matter or wax is removed.  Once sure, a lukewarm bath should be sufficient to maintain a healthy wax level in your child’s ears and to be sure that dirt is removed from your child.  However, if the hardened wax or impacted items do not easily drain, it’s time to seek medical advice from your pediatrician.

Medical Assistance May Be Required
Thick and hardened wax build up in infants or a foreign object stuck in the hear can lead to something more serious.  These problems could result in anything from short term problems to irreversible ear damage. Make an appointment for your child to see his or her pediatrician.

Your pediatrician can examine your child’s ears for infection, build-up and other issues.  The pediatrician has child friendly tools, such as an ear scoop, which can remove hardened wax from ears, remove impacted earwax plugs, or other items.  However, if your pediatrician refers you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist, these doctors have more specialized tools such as small suction tools, an earwax scoop and an ear microscope to assist them.

Other considerations
Babies learn by imitation.  The habits you use to clean their ears could be imitated by them as they get older. Be mindful that you are not inserting objects in their ears, because they will do the same.   As your child gets older, teach them how to be careful with cleaning their own hears and watch them during bath time to make sure they don’t develop bad or dangerous habits.  New and veteran parents can find help at the American Academy of Pediatrics website or the American Board of Pediatrics websites if they have questions.

We delight in the beauty of babies. Their twinkling eyes and their twitching toe remind us all how unique babies can be; however, babies like all wonderful things need particular care. Every parent stresses about keeping their children safe and healthy.  Knowing how to properly clean an infant’s ears and how to identify warning signs of bigger problems is an important part of that process.  Healthy ears lead to a healthy life.