Digging for gold. That’s what my dad used to call the act of jamming a cotton swab in the ear canal and fishing around for wax. Despite the tsk-tsking of otolaryngologists, most of whom caution against sticking anything smaller than your elbow inside your ear, my dad was convinced that a weekly sweep of the ol’ canals helped prevent ear infections, my childhood nemesis. And doing it with a Q-tip, he assured me, was at least more hygienic than a pencil eraser.
Though I no longer suffer earaches, I do wrestle with crippling bouts of vertigo. Remember being a kid, twirling giddily in a thousand circles to make yourself dizzy? That’s what it feels like when I turn my head too quickly. Vertigo is commonly linked to inner-ear problems, but medical practitioners don’t know much about it. If you’re lucky, they might scribble a script for meclizine and assign you a few head-rotating exercises (a.k.a. “canalith-repositioning maneuvers”) to practice at home.
I haven’t found those exercises to be particularly helpful, but one useful bit of advice given to me by an ear, nose, and throat doctor was to keep my ear canals clean, just like my dad always said. Apparently, vertigo is sometimes triggered by earwax pressing against the eardrum. When earwax works like it should, it cleans, protects, and lubricates the ear canal. The problem comes when it builds up, hardens, and forms blockages that can lead to itchiness, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and, for me, vertigo.
Q-tips served as my weapon of choice for decades. But I’ve long been haunted by the Girls episode in which Hannah gets a cotton swab lodged in her ear (you know the one), so when I stumbled across an alternative, I leapt at the chance to check it out.
CAMTOA’s spiral earwax remover is a fat-handled four-inch plastic pick that comes in a handy carrying case with 16 removable spiral tips. Unlike swabs, these detachable grooved heads are made of soft, bendy silicone. They’re designed to slip seamlessly into the ear (up to a point!) and grip the earwax in its place, instead of pushing it deeper into the canal.
The trial run couldn’t have gone smoother. I attached a tip, slid it into my ear as far as it’d go (not even a full inch), and started twisting. Round and round, slowly but surely, suctioning inside the canal and making a satisfying pop! sound when pulled out. The sensation reminded me of ear candling, except I didn’t have to worry about catching my hair on fire. And unlike Q-tips, which get tossed in the trash after each use, I was able to wash the spiral pick with soap and water and return it to its case. (Rubbing alcohol also does the trick.)
I’ve now been using this earwax remover every week for six months, and it’s kept my ears cleaner than ever and my vertigo under control. Keep in mind that while this tool is undoubtedly safer than a Q-tip — because it’ll only go so far in — you should still be careful when it comes to jamming anything into your ear, lest you end up like poor Hannah.
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