To her patients, she is Dr. Emily Taylor, an Owings Mills audiologist who tests hearing, molds customized earplugs and adjusts hearing aids. But to her million-plus followers on TikTok, she is Dr. Earwax, creator of addictive, ooey-gooey videos in which she injects and extracts all sorts of things from her patients’ ear canals.
“Obsessed with these videos,” one fan commented on TikTok. “So satisfying,” wrote another. “i never would have guessed as a child that i would one day consider ear videos a hobby ... yet here i am,” noted a third, summing up the sentiments of many.
Taylor, 34, did not set out to be a social media star. An Owings Mills native, she started her practice in 2013, shortly after graduating with her doctorate of audiology from Towson University. Unlike ear, nose and throat doctors, audiologists do not attend medical school, but obtain a doctorate after four years of advanced studies.
She began building her practice by reaching out to primary care doctors and community organizations. Soon she had enough patients that when her younger cousin, Molly Bishop, also completed a doctorate of audiology, she brought her into the practice, too.
But something was missing. Taylor, the mother of 6-year-old twins, found herself absentmindedly scrolling TikTok and Instagram in the evenings after her children went to sleep. Last September, as she was preparing to attend the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, she casually made a video of herself getting fitted for concert ear plugs that protect hearing while preserving the quality of the music. The video, which she set to Doja Cat’s “Get Into It (Yuh)” and posted to TikTok, has been seen by nearly 300,000 people and racked up more than 1,300 comments. Dr. Earwax had been born.
Since then, Taylor has leaned into the goopier aspects of her practice.
“Deep dive in this canal to see a FUNKY eardrum,” she labeled one post. She touts a particularly fruitful procedure as “Holy wax chunk-amole.” Of another, she wrote, ”We juiced her ear up and popped that wax right out.”
She tags the videos to appeal to those who enjoy the work of Dr. Pimple Popper, a dermatologist whose work is similarly explosive, or fans of ASMR, who consume videos of people whispering, rubbing hair brushes or tapping lightbulbs.
Taylor uses her platform to crusade against her nemesis: the Q-tip, or more precisely, the misuse of them.
Despite package warnings advising people not to stick cotton swabs in the ear canal, many do so in an attempt to clean out wax (or perhaps just because they like the sensation). The problem, Taylor said, is that swabs push wax further into the ear, leading to the sorts of impactions that stud her TikTok channel. And, of course, there is a risk of puncturing an eardrum.
“The ear is self-cleaning,” she said before repeating an old adage. “You shouldn’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.”
When a patient arrives complaining of ear pressure and pain, Taylor uses a video otoscope to look inside their ear canal. Often the culprit is sinus congestion, but if there is impacted wax, she has a number of weapons with which to evict it. The most popular is the artfully named Earigator, which uses a stream of body-temperature water to loosen and flush out wax. Depending on the clog, she also employs a suction device, a tiny spoon called a curette, or miniature forceps.
And it’s not just wax that she removes from patients’ ears. Sometimes she finds pet hair, fibers from those troublesome cotton swabs or hearing aid parts. One fellow had a portion of a taffy-like swimming ear plug stuck in his ear for months.
“There’s this sense of instant relief,” she said. “You can see their eyes widen like, ‘There’s my hearing back.’”
Rachel Klein, 35, of Phoenix, had known Taylor socially before stumbling across her TikTok channel. The videos persuaded her to make an appointment to get her ears checked. “I kept feeling like my ears were clogged, but I wasn’t sure if it was sinuses or wax,” she recalled.
It turned out to be the latter. Taylor used the Earigator to flush out the wax while Bishop, her cousin-turned-colleague, filmed.
“She did the first ear and I could immediately feel the difference,” Klein said. “I felt so much better afterwards.”
Then there was the satisfaction of watching the video of the procedure on TikTok.
“It was very cathartic,” Klein said.
(Like many of Taylor’s posts, TikTok had flagged it as inappropriate, not because of adult content, but presumably because some might be troubled by the sight of nuggets of wax sailing out of a patient’s ear on a stream of water).
Taylor also uses her social media presence to teach people about taking care of their hearing. Many people are frequently exposed to harmful levels of sound — whether from headphones, AirPods, concerts or heavy machinery — without knowing it. They should be set to no more than 60 percent of full volume, she said. Taylor recommends downloading a decibel meter to check noise exposure in loud settings. Being exposed to 100 decibels for more than five minutes can damage hearing, she added. Sounds of 110 decibels can impact hearing in just a minute.
To protect ears from loud sounds, Taylor suggests using ear plugs, which can be specialized for concerts, motor sports, hunting and other activities.
Some of her most popular videos depict the process of making a mold of the ear canal for these plugs. First she inserts a small sponge to protect the ear canal, then she injects candy-colored goop that will harden into the shape of the canal, a process she likens to serving a swirl of soft ice cream. The maker of these earplugs, Phonak, pays her to promote its products on social media. She is also sponsored by a company called Loop, which makes more affordable, non-customized ear plugs that also protect hearing at concerts.
These days, social media takes up a good deal of Taylor’s time. Her following on TikTok grew to 1 million people in about six months. She has recently shifted more of her focus to Instagram. She has about 100,000 followers there, but the platform’s algorithm ensures that more of them see her videos, she said. Patients sign a waiver to give permission for their videos to be posted to social media.
Creating and posting the videos takes just a few moments, but responding to comments and direct messages takes hours, Taylor said. She tries to answer every comment and often suggests that followers visit an audiologist in their area for more guidance.
About half of recent new patients learn about the practice through social media, Taylor said. The rest have no clue — and some have never even heard of TikTok.
Evan Keyser, 37, of Owings Mills, who has worn hearing aids since childhood, made an appointment with Taylor to get fitted for state-of-the-art smart hearing aids that could be used with Bluetooth and adjusted via a smartphone. He has never needed to get his ears cleaned out, but he does savor the strange thrill of Taylor’s social channels.
“I think it’s cool,” he said. “Maybe I’m really weird, but I think it’s really cool.”