August 05, 2011

"Ear Picking" - A Barber Shop Service Health Hazard?

It was only recently that I heard of "ear picking," a barber shop service that is apparently quite common in Asia and recently becoming more popular in the United States in cities with large Asian populations.

In essence, ear picking is when a variety of implements - scrapes, picks, and lights - is used within the ear canal.  Why is it popular among Asians? Mainly because of the type of earwax that is produced by Asians which is mainly dry and flaky which causes an itchy sensation. Ear picking helps remove some of this cornflake-like earwax as well as get the itch "scratched" and is apparently quite a pleasurable experience... like getting an itch on your back scratched. Caucasians have more peanut butter or wet type of earwax which is not amenable to "picking".

This unlicensed service is most often performed in barber shops and unfortunately has led to a number of ear related infections (eardrum perforations, fungal ear infections, bacterial ear infections, etc) as the tools are not sterilized in between customers.

If you want a "professional" type ear cleaning, see your local ENT. Itchy ears can be treated without resorting to ear canal instrumentation along with its risks of infection and eardrum perforations!

Read more about this phenomenon here.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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