How to clean ears before ear mold?
November 20, 2019 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting ear molds made for some custom ear plugs and when I made the appointment with the audiologist's office, the receptionist mentioned to make sure my ears were clean before I go. She did not seem to know anything further when I asked her how to clean them. So... I know to not get a mud bath right before the appointment but other than that, does anyone have any idea of how I should clean my ears before something like this?
posted by madonna of the unloved to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's probably no standard operating procedure (SOP), but for at least a couple/ three days, if you don't do this already, after a shower, use a q-tip to clean the folds of the outer ear. Scrub behind ears.

I'm going to get yelled at, but using a clean q-tip, gently swab the ear canal.

You may find waxy buildup, this is normal.

Asking you to make sure that your ears are clean is probably just a precaution so they can turn away really gross ears that would affect the quality of the molds.
posted by porpoise at 1:36 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just get after my ears with a Q-tip, precisely how they tell you NOT to. Last time I had molds made, my audiologist complimented me on having extremely clean ear canals.
posted by TheCoug at 1:53 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, they are definitely aiming this at the portion of the patient population that hasn't washed or cleaned their ears since 1982. Don't be gross and you should be fine. If it was very important how you did it, they would have instructed you specifically.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:02 PM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

My husband regularly gets earwax, so he goes to the clinic and gets his ears washed with a spray thing, FYI.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:17 PM on November 20, 2019

My doctor once told me to like... let shampoo wash my ears in the shower. Not like actively scrub inside your ears with shampoo, but when you're shampooing your hair, maybe just rub your shampoo-y hands on the outside of your ear and then rinse it off with warm water when you rinse your hair.
posted by brainmouse at 2:21 PM on November 20, 2019

Warming the ears so the wax is more fluid; I use over the ear headphones and listen to a little music before the qtip deal. A little spritz of vodka on the qtip if my ears are itchy.
posted by effluvia at 2:36 PM on November 20, 2019

I've worn hearing aids since I was four. Any serious issues of wax build up and the audiologist would have already asked you to get them cleaned out by a doctor. So just wipe the outer ear after your shower. You should be just fine.
posted by acidnova at 2:42 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can clean your ears by pouring hydrogen peroxide in one side at a time and letting it sit a few minutes before tipping into a tissue/towel if you take the no-swab-in-ear warnings seriously. (I do not.)
posted by momus_window at 2:45 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you have enough wax to be concerned, earwax removal kits are a thing; you should be able to find one at a local drugstore.
posted by sageleaf at 2:55 PM on November 20, 2019

Please don't attempt to remove your ear wax unless your audiologist mentions there is build up. This was a generalized statement from the receptionist to have clean ears. Just have good hygiene and don't bother with all of these internal, wax removal suggestions which can cause your ear canal to become slightly inflamed and swell which would mess up your mold as it won't fit properly.
posted by acidnova at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

I would kindly ask that unless you've actually had ear molds made before, please don't offer more suggestions about wax removal. That's a separate issue and the audiologist would look in the patient's ear and determine if wax removal by a professional is necessary. The OP may not even have wax build up at all.
posted by acidnova at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

You can get a bulb syringe at any pharmacy and most grocery stores in the pharmacy department. Or Wal-Mart. It's easiest to use while you are in the shower or the bath and safer than q-tips. You just fill it with warm slightly shampoo'y water and use it like a mini turkey baster. First squoosh the warm water in, then suck it out. Do this a few times as the first squoosh in will start loosening and softening any wax before one of the later sucks will get the gurp.

If you have a hypodermic syringe without a needle on it you can use that instead. And in a pinch a small bottle such as the smallest size dish detergent bottle that can be used the same way will also work.

People who think their ear canal is reasonably clean are sometimes happily and revoltedly astonished by dark brown goop that can sometimes be removed this way and sticks to the syringe nozzle.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:12 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mefite Lutolawski is an audiologist and may be able to offer some informed and qualified advice. I suggest memailing them.
posted by smoke at 3:50 PM on November 20, 2019

Better than any advice you can get here, what you should do is contact your audiologist's office (or whomever you will be visiting) again and ask for more specific advice.

In lieu of that, here's what I've learned from several sessions of ear mould impressions. In general, clean your outer ears when you wash your face, and use cotton swabs as recommended. That's mostly all that I've needed, but I've noticed that when air pollution is bad I also get more ear wax buildup, which mostly means more ear swabbing.

You don't actually want your ears to be squeaky clean before getting an impression. There should be some sebum coating your ears when the impression is done, it's a natural lubricant. Therefore, DO NOT put diluted hydrogen peroxide directly into your ears unless directed to do so by a doctor. It will strip that coating and also risk irritating your ear canals (and possibly your ear drums) and make the impression process worse, not better. If you have to use something, get one of the ear wax removal kit packages at the drug store and follow the directions carefully. Do it no later than a couple days before getting an impression done, so that your ears have time to recover.
posted by ardgedee at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've done this! I went to get the earmolds and the audiologist took one look in my ears and said I needed to have earwax removed first. So I went to the doctor and they used an irrigating syringe. It was easy enough to do and not uncomfortable. The receptionist has probably seen that happen but it's not a useful comment - only the audiologist can tell you if you have too much earwax.

If you want to DIY to save yourself a follow-up appointment, NO Q-TIPS!!! You can get a little $5 water syringe specially made for ears at a pharmacy. You fill this with lukewarm water and gently squirt it in your ear (the tip is perforated so that it won't squirt hard and damage your eardrum), you do this over the sink a bunch of times and the wax will come out. Or you can use shower water of the right temperature.

But I would just go for the appointment, the audiologist will look and tell you what's up.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:50 AM on November 21, 2019

Mefite Lutolawski is an audiologist and may be able to offer some informed and qualified advice. I suggest memailing them.

Hey that's me! I AM an audiologist and have few purposes in life other than talking about ear wax and earmolds.

Some right and some wrong advice here. For most people, you do not, and should not, clean your ears in any way other than just your regular showering routine.

The issue here is not about your ears being "dirty" per se (although it is nice to have practiced reasonable hygiene whenever you go to a medical professional who is going to touch you/get up close/etc). The issue is really about ear wax. Occluding or impacted ear wax will make it impossible to safely take the impressions, because they are going to squirt goo down your ear canal, and they do not want to push a wax occlusion deeper into your ear canal.

Now, if the audiologist already looked in your ears, you are fine. If you needed wax removal, they would have gone ahead and done it themselves or referred you to an ENT (some audiologists don't like to do it, don't have the equipment, or you have some contraindication for removal that requires you to be in a hospital setting in case something goes wrong). If they didn't look in your ears but you do not have a history of significant ear wax issues, you are also probably fine. There is a chance you might not know you have a ton of wax, in which case, at your appointment, your audiologist will either remove what is necessary for the impression or refer you to an ENT and reschedule you.

Here's the thing about ear wax: it is GOOD and NECESSARY. It is produced by glands in the outer 2/3 of your ear canal and slowly moves its way toward the exit of your ear canal carrying dirt and bacteria and whatever else out of your ear which is just washed away in the shower. It is protective. In some people, in can become a problem, in which case it does need to be regularly removed or at least softened with something like debrox so that it naturally moves out of the ear canal. You can take an impression with wax in the ear canal. I do it all the time - your ear does not and really should not be pristine. Normal, soft, peanut butter looking wax easily moves out of the way of the impression or adheres to the cotton block and comes out with it.

What we worry about is hard, occluding ear wax. How does one get such a thing? Well, for some, it just sort of happens. But MOST people get hard, occluding ear wax from...yep, you guessed it! Q-tip use. I know it feels good. I know you THINK you're cleaning you ears. But a lot of people think they are cleaning the wax with a Q-tip but are really just pushing most of it back deeper in to the ear canal. Eventually it ends up in the back 1/3 portion, which is bone, and which does not have glands that keep the ear wax rotating out of the ear. Then it just gets stuck, gets hard, and eventually causes problems and can be painful to remove. Does this happen to everyone who uses Q-tips? Of course not, but it is a significant risk for a practice that has no benefits.

Yes, I have had patients who have, e.g., gotten knocked by a door while using a Q-tip and had the thing go through their ear drum. And that's a good reason not to, too. But the real reason is that you make your wax problem worse, not better. It tends to get worse with age, as your wax gets less and less soft.

You do not need to squirt water or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal. Neither is necessarily dangerous (unless you have a known insect in your ear, in which case you should not put water in there), but it's also just not necessary.

I think that is an odd thing for the receptionist to say. I would never advise our receptionist to give out advice like that, but maybe they've had some recent issues with having to send people to the ENT and reschedule. I don't know. But the short of it is, unless you have had a history of excessive ear wax, I wouldn't worry about it or do anything differently.

Oh, and custom earplugs are amazing. Total game changer, one of those things that you drop $100 on but last forever and really are a big life improvement. I think you'll love them.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2019 [12 favorites]

Dr. Lutolawski, Thank you very very much for the great information you've posted here. I've had a variety of ear issues since receiving my hearing aids - courtesy of taxpayers through the Veterans Administration. No more peroxide, as recommended by a thoughtful but mis informed spouse. I'll be following your guidelines.
posted by X4ster at 9:59 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the expert knowledge!

Do your observations on q-tips and ear wax also apply to Asian-type, where it tends to me more dry/ flaky? The use of small picks - tiny bowls hammered out of the end of a brass wire - are common for routine (dry) ear wax removal.

Any thoughts on active noise cancelling earbuds for sleeping like the quieton?
posted by porpoise at 12:32 AM on November 23, 2019

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