A viral TikTok video shows a woman pouring hydrogen peroxide into her ear to remove earwax — and while many who commented were skeptical about the hack, doctors said that it's actually safe, with some caveats.
Dr. Angela Powell, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Maryland, said that hydrogen peroxide is an ingredient that can be used to remove earwax. Dr. Seth Schwartz, an ENT who has written clinical guidelines about how to safely remove earwax, noted that many over-the-counter solutions for earwax do include hydrogen peroxide, though it's typically diluted.
"The drops are definitely safe," said Schwartz. "In general, (hydrogen peroxide) is a safe thing to have in your ear, it has some positive qualities for your ear ... it can be antibacterial and it helps with the general cleaning process of the ear."
Both doctors were a little more hesitant about using full-strength, undiluted hydrogen peroxide.
"Hydrogen peroxide at full strength ... can be sort of abrasive to the skin, so it really shouldn't be used at full concentration," Schwartz said, noting that the irritation can lead to skin damage.
However, you can make an at-home solution by combining hydrogen peroxide with water.
"You would dilute it significantly, down to half-strength or even lower, with distilled or sterile water," Schwartz said. "Put a few drops into the ear, leave it for a short period (about ten seconds,) and then allow it to go out the ear."
Are there any risks associated with using hydrogen peroxide?
Powell said that anyone who has a hole or perforation in their eardrum should not use hydrogen peroxide or any other liquid to clean out their ears.
"(If there is) a hole in the eardrum, the peroxide could potentially get into that space behind the eardrum and then cause them to have some dizziness or other potential problems," Powell said.
If you do use hydrogen peroxide to remove earwax, it's also important to make sure you completely dry your ears afterwards.
"If the moisture lingers, then patients can develop a swimmers ear type infection which most people have heard of from swimming and from water exposure," Powell said.
What about Q-tips or cotton swabs?
While many might think of cotton swabs as a safe way to clean out earwax, doctors strongly advise against using them.
"Q-tips are discouraged because people have a tendency to either put them in too far and then cause irritation to the surface of the ear or actually rupture the eardrum and injure the little bones that sit behind the ear, (which can) cause hearing loss," Powell explained.
Schwartz pointed out that in addition to the risk of damage, the cotton swabs can be ineffective and "tend to push the wax deeper into the ear canal" instead of cleaning it out.
Powell also said that using Q-tips can remove too much wax from the ear, which means your ear is less protected against bacteria and other organisms.
"Wax is a protective coating that reduces the pH, so that your ear canal pH is a little bit more acidic, so bacteria and fungus and yeast and other organisms don't end up overgrowing and causing infection," Powell explained. "We need a little bit of wax."
What other options are safe?
In addition to over-the-counter options, Schwartz and Powell both had suggestions for other home remedies people can use to safely clean their ears.
Powell recommended using mineral oil, which can be purchased in most pharmacies and can be placed in the ear with an eyedropper. Just a few drops should be used, to avoid "flooding the ear," but there is less risk of ear infection since there's less moisture. Powell said that using this method will "soften the wax" and make it easier to remove with a washcloth or finger.
Schwartz said that even just plain water can be used to remove earwax.
"(Earwax) is hydrophilic, meaning that water will actually get into it and break it down," he said. "Hydrogen peroxide is no more effective than water or water-based drops. ... Water or saline can be put into the ear, allowed to sit in the ear for a few minutes while it softens up the wax and then let run out."
Powell also emphasized that there's nothing wrong with asking for help.
"If you get to the point where you're having difficulty clearing the wax ... You may need a professional to actually go in there and remove it," Powell said. "It's not a sign of weakness to seek out some assistance if you're not able to clear it yourself."