Some people have a cough reflex that happens when you touch something inside their ear. The cough is caused by stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve, which supplies the middle part of the ear and the ear canal.
The auricular branch of the vagus is a long nerve that extends from the brain to the torso, controlling heart, lungs and many other parts of the body. It stimulates a cough response in some patients who have an earwax blockage.
In most cases, ears naturally clean themselves through chewing and jaw movement. They produce earwax, called cerumen, as a self-cleaning agent that traps dirt and other particles and filters them out of the ear canal.
Sometimes, however, the wax production gets out of control and builds up. In those cases, a person might need to see their doctor for treatment.
One way to loosen earwax is to use a bulb syringe and flush it with warm water. You can also use a mixture of baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, mineral oil, or glycerin to soften the wax and make it easier to remove from the ear.
Another way to loosen earwax without putting anything in the ear is to tilt your head so that your ear opening points up toward the ceiling. Keeping your head this way for a few minutes should allow the fluid and wax to drain.
It’s best to stick to safe methods for removing earwax at home, such as a washcloth or ear drops. Avoid cotton swabs, because they can push the wax further into your ear and cause infection.