Ear & Balance

Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear!

February 1, 2020
FB ear 1

In my ENT practice, I do encounter many adult patients who have dug their ears with cotton buds and metal picks. However, this is the first time that I’ve seen an adult who stuck a “pen” in his ear in an attempt to clean it! The tip of the “pen” was dislodged and was stuck in his ear canal. Fortunately for him, after a quick removal of the foreign body in the clinic, there was no significant damage seen to his ear drum or ear canal. He did have a secondary infection in the ear canal as a result of not consulting a doctor till about 1 month after the incident!




Ear Canal Infection

After removal of the foreign body, infection of the ear canal and ear drum can be seen



The culprit – Tip of a “Pen”



As the old saying goes,  “do not put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear” – meaning never insert anything in your ear! (of course except for prescribed ear drops as directed by your doctor). The ear has a built in self-cleansing conveyer-belt mechanism that pushes dead skin, trapped dirt and earwax outward at a rate of 0.05mm/day (about the same growth rate of a nail!).  In addition, earwax in small amounts is actually protective of the ear canal! Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to taking care of your ear.



Cotton Buds / Swabs ( AKA Q-Tips )


Do: Use them only on the outer part of your ear, just outside the ear canal.


Don’t: Put them in your ear canal as you will end up pushing the earwax deeper and the self-cleansing  mechanism of your ear will fail. In some cases, you may even injure your ear canal, puncture your ear drum or have part of the broken Q-tip stuck in your ear canal!



Cotton Bud

Cotton bud is meant for cleaning the outer ear, just outside the ear canal



Guide to Earwax Removal

Cotton bud should NOT be inserted into the ear canal!



A cotton bud is too big to be inserted into the ear canal. It will end up pushing your earwax deeper



If not careful, cotton bud inserted too deep into the ear canal can puncture the ear drum, damaging the middle and inner ear



Wax Softener (e.g Olive oil, Mineral oil, Hydrogen Peroxide, etc … )


Do: Use them regularly if you have a tendency for earwax buildup


Don’t: Use them if you have an ear infection or a hole in your eardrum



Curettes, Ear picks and Lighted Probe


Do: Let a trained healthcare professional remove your earwax with these instruments as earwax removal is a delicate procedure


Don’t: Do it yourself or ask an untrained person to do it for you



Vacuum suction and Saline irrigation / Ear Syringing


Do: Let a trained healthcare professional remove your earwax with these instruments as earwax removal is a delicate procedure


Don’t: Use over the counter ear vacuums. Studies have shown that they are too weak to be effective. Patients with a hole in their eardrum should avoid any ear irrigation



Ear Candling


Don’t: Use a burning candle with a hollow centre to suction out earwax. In 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a health warning, against the use of ear candling. Studies have shown that it is ineffective and has a risk of skin and hair burns.


Ear Candling




    When Should You See an ENT Specialist in Singapore?

    • Any ear, nose or throat symptoms that you are troubled with or concerned about
    • Persistent blocked nose with mouth breathing or snoring

    Dr Gan Eng Cern

    Dr Gan Eng Cern is a distinguished ENT doctor with fellowship training. In addition to his clinical practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist in Singapore, Dr. Gan has contributed to the academic field as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. He is recognised for his extensive research work, with numerous contributions to reputable international ENT journals. Dr Gan is also highly sought after as a speaker and has shared his surgical knowledge as a surgical dissection teacher at various prominent ENT conferences and courses.


    • 2020 – Reader’s Choice Gold Award for Best ENT Specialist (Expat Living Singapore)
    • 2016 – Best Educator Award (Eastern Health Alliance)
    • 2016 – “Wow” Award (Patient Compliment)
    • 2014 – Eastern Health Alliance Caring Award – Silver
    • 2014 – 19th Yahya Cohen Memorial Lectureship (awarded by the College of Surgeons, Academy of Medicine Singapore for best scientific surgical paper)
    • 2012 – Human Manpower Development Award (Ministry of Health, Singapore)
    • 2007 – Singhealth Best Doctor Award


    • MBBS – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
    • MRCS (Edin) – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    • MMed (ORL) – Master of Medicine in ENT (National University of Singapore)
    • FAMS – Fellow of the Academy of Medicine Singapore

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