While it may be tempting to whip out a cotton swab and clean out that earwax, hold back—it could puncture your child's eardrum or cause an infection. Ears are amazing self-cleaners anyway! Joseph Dohar, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, gives us more must-knows about caring for little ears.
1. Earwax is totally normal.
It's like boogers but on either side of the head. And cerumen (its official name) does some pretty cool things: protects and moisturizes the skin in the ear canal, contains chemicals that fight off infections, and keeps dust and dirt from getting stuck in the eardrum. If it looks yellow and sticky, let it be.
2. Be super-duper gentle.
You can lightly wipe around the outer ears with a washcloth during bathtime, but avoid sticking anything inside (that goes for your own ears too!). Doing so could scratch the inner ear or push wax even farther back. Rest assured that wax will move to the opening, dry up, and fall out on its own. If you're still concerned about buildup, talk to your child's doc, who might remove excess wax or prescribe special drops to do the trick. Just washing your child's hair regularly will help keep her ears squeaky-clean.
3. Tune in to warning signs.
That's not to say you can ignore your kid's hearing machines altogether (even though they might sometimes ignore you—ha!). If you notice he seems to unconsciously stick a finger or other objects into his ear, this could be a sign that his ear is irritated or blocked by wax. It could lead to pain, pressure, or even hearing loss if left unaddressed, so ask him, "Why are you touching your ear?" and see your doctor if he mentions that it feels full or is ringing, or if his hearing seems muffled.