The word earwax does not conjure up positive images, however it has a very important role in helping to protect the eardrum from harmful bacteria, fungi and other debris. Earwax is essentially a waxy oil known as cerumen, which is naturally produced by the glands in the external ear canal. These secretions effectively lubricate and cleanse the ear canal. Without its presence, our ears would be much more vulnerable to a number of invaders.
Any build-up of earwax is generally unwelcome, particularly when visible, but it is common and entirely manageable. The body is equipped to naturally expel any excess, primarily through lower jaw movements. The muscles used in the motion of chewing and talking naturally push the ear wax through the canal and out the ear. It is then easy to remove traces of earwax in the course of normal daily hygienic maintenance.
Due to this natural process of expelling earwax, it is unnecessary and often dangerous to attempt cleaning the ear canal with swabs. Many people inadvertently push wax deeper into the air when using swabs, which can cause a blockage and even temporary hearing loss.
Some people, however, some people are prone to excessive earwax buildup and blockage due to ear glands that produce more wax than necessary. Additionally, individuals wearing hearing aids or regular users of earbuds or earplugs are prone to blockages, as they effectively prevent the earwax from exiting the canal. Any signs of excessive earwax buildup or blockage should be addressed, as it could lead to an infection, and may include:
- A sudden and/or partial hearing loss
- Pain or earache
- Tinnitus (mild or severe ringing in the ears)
- A plugged or clogged ear sensation
Infections may be identified by additional more severe symptoms, such as:
- Severe pain in the ear that does not subside
- Discharge/ drainage from the ear canal
- Persistent hearing loss
- Dizziness or vertigo
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with infections, you should contact your physician’s office.
Individuals prone to excessive earwax buildup should be conscientious about periodic maintenance. There are several home remedies and over the counter eardrops available to help soften the wax for safe removal. Some are safe and others are not.
One option, ear candles or ear candling, has been a popular home remedy that is worth discussing. To understand how ear candles work, it’s important to remember that earwax is created in the outer ear canal and naturally migrates out of the canal. Ear candles are wax-coated fabric cones that work by creating pressure within the ear canal and in theory pulls the earwax out. Their effectiveness is debatable however and they can be dangerous to use. Some of the risks include:
- Potentially burning your ear canal or face
- Pushing wax deeper into your ear canal
- Create a hole or perforate your eardrum
Better alternatives such as over the counter eardrops to soften wax making it easier to remove are available. If you have symptoms of earwax buildup you can try a safe over the counter option. However if symptoms persist, a professional hearing specialist should be consulted to ensure something more complicated is not affecting your hearing.
At Hearing Health USA, an audiologist or hearing aid specialist will conduct a thorough examination to determine the nature of the problem and provide the appropriate treatment. Treatments may vary from prescription eardrops, applying a wax-dissolving solution or safe removal with irrigation or suction.
If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss due to earwax or suspect that you may have impacted earwax, please contact one of our offices.