Everyone from babies to adults have earwax in their ears. It serves to lubricate, clean and protect our ears.
Once in place, earwax should not be attempted to be removed as this may cause more earwax to form and block your ear canal further increasing your risk of infection. Your health and hearing requirements also play a part in how frequently your earwax should be checked.
What is Earwax?
Outer ears feature glands called cerumen (pronounced suh-ROO-men). Earwax is produced in special glands located at the outer edge, known as cerumen. This golden-brown gunk contains skin cells, sweat and fatty oils mixed together with water in the ear canal to form small balls of golden gunk that keep hearing intact and provide protection from infections. Ear canal cerumen serves an important function by keeping moisture at bay in addition to helping with hearing.
Everyone’s earwax varies, from wet or dry, yellow, brown or even black in appearance. Scientists have discovered that genes play a significant role in how wet or dry your earwax is; those with family histories of wet earwax may also exhibit symptoms themselves.
Your earwax should move out of the ear canal slowly like a conveyor belt, assisted by muscle movement of your inner and outer ears and jaw movement. Wearing hearing aids increases your likelihood of having issues with earwax accumulation as they trap it in the canal and make removal even harder.
Most doctors advise leaving your earwax to be naturally shed; you can use a soft wash cloth or wax-softening drops prescribed by a healthcare provider, while home attempts at self-removal with cotton swabs or similar devices could potentially impair earwax-producing glands and lead to infection in your ears.
Symptoms and treatment options vary; to find out how best to handle earwax build-up, visit your primary care doctor and discuss treatment. They can assess symptoms as well as perform physical exams with hearing tests; they can even use an otoscope to look inside your ear canal.
Your provider can determine if your earwax is stuck and safely remove it using a tool known as a speculum or curette. They may refer you to a specialist as needed; otherwise they may recommend surgery to safely extract the impacted earwax, as soon as possible; delayed removal could lead to infection and ruptured eardrums.
Ear wax (cerumen) provides protection and hygiene to the ear canal. While its appearance may be unpleasant to some, earwax is an essential part of our body’s self-cleaning processes and should remain as part of its normal processes until it causes problems or discomfort; guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery recommend not removing it unless there are health reasons. A build-up of earwax may lead to discomfort or even hearing loss; there are multiple safe methods available that allow removal.
Many people attempt to clean their ears using cotton swabs or their fingers, however these methods only manage to move the earwax around without actually eliminating it from the canal. Furthermore, objects entering the ear canal stimulate production of more wax which pushes old wax further down into its surroundings.
Another mistake often made when trying to flush out earwax with a rubber-bulb syringe is using too much force in trying to clear away excess wax, pushing deeper into the canal where it hardens and hardens further. Instead, softening and encouraging natural removal with baby oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide removal drops is often more successful in softening earwax formation.
Warm water irrigation systems can also help liquefy and flush away earwax from your ears, encouraging it to drain freely out. To do this, tilt your head so the ear opening points up while slowly dripping a few drops into your ear canal. After several minutes have passed, gently tip back over and allow all fluid and earwax to escape through its natural channels – you could use a towel or low heat hair dryer on low setting after this is complete to dry out the canal afterwards.
Doctors can manually remove earwax using operating microscopes or small suction devices, providing another viable option if home remedies don’t work or if symptoms such as fullness in one ear or an obstruction arise. Most often, this process can be completed safely within 10 minutes.
Earwax that’s dry, flaky, and easily sheds out of the ear canal on its own typically does not present any issues; however, wet or sticky earwax that accumulates can clog up the canal causing blockages that cause symptoms such as a full feeling in your ears, ringing in your ears (tinnitus), or hearing loss. If this is occurring frequently to you then schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor immediately to address it.
Prevent earwax impaction by cleaning your outer ears regularly using a cloth or small shower head, rather than cotton swabs or other objects in the ear canal. Poking at earwax with such items could push deeper into the ear canal and potentially lead to infection and hearing loss.
Avoid using unapproved earwax removal products as this could result in impaction, hearing loss and/or permanent damage to the ear canal.
Health care providers can easily remove earwax with just a few drops of an ointment to soften it or water from a small syringe. Do not attempt to irrigate the ear canal on your own as doing so could rupture or puncture an eardrum and result in serious hearing loss or infections. Furthermore, dental irrigation devices should never be used on an open perforation in an eardrum or after having had surgery as this could damage its membrane further and lead to infections and hearing loss or infections.
The best way to reduce earwax buildup is allowing it to dissipate on its own over two weeks as you lie down at night, usually over the span of two weeks. To assist this process, place two to three drops of medical-grade olive oil twice daily or drop some glycerin at bedtime; both have proven equally effective at dissolving earwax buildup. Earwax that has compacted or hardened can be safely extracted using special tools by health care providers using special tools; usually painlessly and safely completed right in their offices.
Although earwax may seem unpleasant, it serves a vital function: protecting your ears. The ear canal is an extremely sensitive organ; therefore it produces protective substances to block dust or other potential threats from entering it.
Earwax acts as a natural cleanser when it travels from the ear canal to the eardrum, gathering dead skin cells and hairs as it moves along its journey. Earwax will eventually expel itself from ears; however, too much may build up or blockages can prevent its expulsion.
Certain individuals are more prone to having their earwax impacted than others, which can be caused by various sources. Cotton swabs, bobby pins and pen lids are some of the main culprits of an impacted earwax impaction as these items push earwax further into the canal or compact it, leading to impaction. Common symptoms of an impaction include feeling fullness in their ears, hearing loss, itching in their ears as well as bad smells emitting from them.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with an impacted earwax, make an appointment with your primary care doctor immediately. They can determine whether an issue with the earwax is to blame and offer treatment options accordingly.
When dealing with an impacted earwax build-up, non-surgical approaches may be used for removal such as using a special cerumen spoon or forceps or irrigation with water or saline solution. In more serious instances, professional healthcare specialists can remove it using either suction devices or bulb syringes.
There are various methods of preventing earwax buildup, including wearing earplugs or hearing aids prescribed by your physician and using over-the-counter earwax removal solutions that soften earwax such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide drops. If mild impaction of the ear wax occurs, try encouraging its natural flow by placing several drops of solution in one ear while tilting your head up so its opening faces upward.