An ear curette, also known as an ear pick, ear spoon, or ear scoop, is a long, slender, cylindrical instrument used to clean wax out of the ear canal. The tool itself has been around for centuries, but it has evolved quite a bit in that time. Traditionally, ear curettes were made from bone, bamboo, or even gold and silver. Today, they are more commonly made from either stainless steel, which can be sterilized, or plastic, which is disposable. Severe infection can be caused by a dirty curette.
The three most common tips found on an ear curette are the "ladle," the wire loop, and the disk. The "ladle" type is the traditional tip, and is still the most popular. Shaped like a tiny spoon, this tip is usually effective at removing both wet and dry ear wax, and is generally considered the easiest to use.
The wire loop tip consists of either multiple nested loops of wire or a spiral. The wire serves as a trap for the wax, making it easier to actually pull the wax from the ear. It is not, however, effective for wet ear wax, which the loops cannot grab. The disk tip consists of a series of circular plates — usually three — that stick out from the end of the curette like a screw. These disks can grab wax that is either adhered to the walls of the ear canal, or in a plug near the ear drum.
The other end of the ear curette, opposite the tip, is also functional. Traditional curettes included a down puff to brush flakes of dry wax off of the outside of the ear. Today, some manufacturers install lights to illuminate the ear canal for the procedure. Pediatricians sometimes use curettes with cartoon figurines sculpted onto the end to make the procedure less frightening for children.
There are some risks associated with the use of an ear curette. Although many modern curettes feature a safety stop, there is still a possibility of puncturing the ear drum. The use of a dirty or contaminated curette can cause infection, and improper technique can actually push wax further down into the ear canal, where it can become impacted. Impacted wax can cause hearing loss, necessitating an ear irrigation.
Although it is possible to remove ear wax at home, most doctors recommend against it. Ear wax usually works its way out of the ear naturally. It should not be removed unless it is causing pain or hearing loss, in which case the removal should be performed by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.