As an ENT specialist I have come across various home remedies for ear that people have tried at home during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Here is a list of top 5 dangerous ones and why you shouldn’t try them at home.
Earbuds or Q-tips are found in almost every Indian home. This is probably the most common home remedy for ear wax that we have all used at some point in time. We have grown up with a mental conditioning that cleaning the ear after bath is good for hygiene, however this is absolutely false. Ears canal is protected by ear wax which has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Ear has a self cleansing mechanism for clearing all excess ear wax. By using earbuds we push it further in causing impacted earwax in the canal or even trauma to the canal skin and ear drum. Use of unsterile earbuds also introduces dangerous bacteria and fungi to the otherwise healthy micro environment of the ear.
2. Vegetable oils
It is the most common home remedy for ear advised by well meaning relatives for ear pain and ear itching. It may also however be the most dangerous. Hot oil has been known to cause damage to the ear canal skin and drum. This may even be irreversible in some cases leading to extremely narrow ear canal. Use of room temperature oil in the ear introduces fungal spores and bacteria that are invisible to the eye. These bacteria and fungi thrive in the moist, nutrient rich environment in the ear and give rise to senior ear infections which can be very difficult to treat. Use of cold oil can cause sudden episodes of vertigo, nausea and vomiting.
3. Vegetable/fruit juice
Onion and garlic juice are the most common amongst the vegetable juices that I have come across in my practice. Others are mango pulp and apple juice. These patients had heavy bacterial and fungal growth in the canal with pus discharge from the ear. All such infections are difficult to treat and require gentle cleaning of the canal to remove all of the vegetable matter, followed by both oral and topical antibiotics.
4. Ear candling
Ear candling is a traditional/herbal medicine practice which has been popularised by the internet as home remedy for ear wax. There are kits available over the net, claiming to remove the earwax by suctioning action. However, there is no proof of it working. It requires insertion of a wax coated cone or wick into the ear, and lighting the other end. It has been known to cause eardrum rupture and burns on the ear pinnacle, ear canal, neck and cheeks with no clear advantage.
5. Over the counter ear drops
Often patients approach a chemist or pharmacy for ear drops for ear itching and ear pain. Now, there are multiple causes for ear pain and sometimes ear pain might not even originate in the ear. A clear diagnosis is necessary before putting anything in the ear. Indiscriminate use of antibiotic ear drops causes disruption of microbiome in the ear and leads to dangerous bacterial and fungal infection. Use of over-the-counter wax solvents can lead to allergic reactions and maceration of the canal skin, leading to extensive damage.
In conclusion, my advice to the readers would be to not try any home remedies for ear and you will never have to visit an ENT specialist again.