Dr. O’Leary explains how helpful it is to wash one’s ears out with a solution every day.
It’s opposite: That skin is too delicate. The skin inside the ear canal is very unique. The skin everywhere else on our body is designed to take flush and to be cleaned, etcetera, etcetera. The ear canal skin has been adapted for a totally different purpose. If you can see on your camera there, the skin sits right on bone. There’s nowhere else in our body where it does that. Everywhere else in our body the skin has a cutaneous layer that lets it move and be abraded and gives it blood supply. This skin instead is designed for something very different.
Do you want to guess what that might be? What do you think the purpose of the skin might be here? It’s for hearing. So the body found out that hard surfaces provide much more noise than soft surfaces do. I hate to hit my leg and say it’s a soft surface, but the truth is you can hear the difference in that sound. So this is a little echo chamber right next to where we hear.
This is how nature evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to provide us an extremely efficient hearing system, but notice how it protected it. This skin is very delicate; it can’t take a joke, but it will protect it by saying, “You can’t get there,” and then it’s a privileged sanctum. It doesn’t take the outside world abrasion and other stuff.
So, same church, real skin, but totally different purpose, and so it will not take any of the other recipes we might apply elsewhere. The best way to test all this litany of home recipes, all of which gets you in trouble, is do that with your hand. If you use peroxide, put your hand in the peroxide. See what your hand looks like after a couple of treatments in alcohol, peroxide, ear drops, squirting it hard, etcetera, and realize that your hand skin is Kevlar compared to the delicate tissue paper that’s in here, and when you start seeing redness and breakdown and cracking, you realize you are really creaming it over here, and then that’s part of the vicious cycle.
There’s one thing that I should also mention. In the ear, when you start having breakdown, the first symptom is not pain; it’s actually itching. So this is how it becomes a vicious cycle–the more it itches, the more you feel impelled to clean it; the more you clean it, the worse it breaks down, the more itches, and that’s our evolution to infections.
So, best way to stop the vicious cycle–take on a new paradigm for how you keep it clean; understand a little bit of the anatomy and why it works so well and your ears will very happily fade into the background–something we don’t need to pay attention to.
About Dr. O'Leary, M.D.:
As a neurotologist, Dr. Michael O'Leary specializes in diseases of the ear and balance, treating all aspects of ear problems, both medical and surgical. Among his unique areas of expertise in the ears are correction of surfer’s ears (exostosis), stapes surgery and repair of chronic mastoidectomy defects. His role on the skull-base team focuses on tumors of the lateral skull base, such as acoustic neuromas and meningiomas. He is also a nationally recognized leader in the development of minimally invasive techniques, including the endoscopic removal of pituitary tumors.