Timothy C. Hain, MD •Last edited: March 5, 2021
Different cultures vary in how they deal with ear wax. In the United States, we are taught "don't put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear", but people seem to routinely disregard this. In an informal survey in my own medical practice in Chicago, at least 90% of patients use "Q" tips to clean their ears. Occasional people use other things like hair-pins --let your imagination go and you can see what I mean.
It is very common for ear doctors to see people come in with small bruises on their ear canal. We then ask our patients if they have been using the awful "Q" tips - -and most of them admit doing this. Then we admonish them to use other methods.
Similarly, nearly all ear doctors have a collection of stories about someone who poked this object into their ear and ended up with that awful result. For example, I remember with some horror the person from a mental institution who put a sharpened pencil right through his ear drum. Long fingernails seem to do the most superficial damage. One also routinely hears about use of safety pins, and other writing instruments -- I am sure you can imagine. Nevertheless, it is very rare to have someone do much damage other than a few scratches on the outer side of the ear drum. Practically, the ear drum is fairly far inside the ear and it hurts a lot to stick something through it.
In addition to putting sharp instruments into their ears, children also may put in pebbles, bugs, or beans into their ears to name a few -- sometimes with very unfortunate results. Biological materials (like beans) may decompose -- and cause severe infections -- so getting them out quickly is a priority. Attempts to remove objects from the ear without proper tools (e.g. an examining microscope and the proper forceps) may cause even more injury.
There are many safer ways to remove ear wax by yourself, or to have it removed in the office. In our opinion, removal of ear wax by an ear doctor using a combination of a microscope and suction is the best way to remove considerable ear wax. See the main ear wax page for more about this.
|Mimikaki being used to clean a childs ear||One of numerous styles of Mimikaki.|
Mimikaki are instruments mainly used in Asian countries to remove ear wax. A typical one (easily obtained in Japanese convenience stores) is a often roughly 8 inch bamboo stick, having a small scoop on one end and a tuft of cotton on the other. It looks a bit like a toothbrush, with a scoop replacing the brush portion.
My understanding is that generally one has someone else use the Mimikaki on you. This has the advantage of direct vision. It is not usually something that you stick into your own ear. It is said tht some even find it stimulating to have their ears cleaned out by an attractive person. We don't know about that -- but it does sound interesting. In Tokyo, there are supposedly also Ear Wax Parlors, some even having camera equipped Mimikaki's so that one can see one's ear wax being excavated. Again, sounds interesting. We like the idea that whoever is cleaning out the wax can see what they are doing (this is basically what happens in an ear doctor's office).