Earwax

Earwax may be annoying or gross, but it is purposeful in protecting the ear from bacteria. The scientific name for earwax is cerumen. Ear wax also keeps the ear clean. Without ear wax, the ear would collect dust and bacteria. That dust and bacteria would pile up on the eardrum which would cause other problems. If we need ear wax, why should we even clean our ears? Ear wax is good but too much of a good thing can be bad.

Just like the mouth has salivary glands, the ear also has glands that produce wax. The amount of earwax you produce is genetic. Some people just naturally make more wax than others. Ear wax usually dries up and falls out on its own. In some cases, the shape of the ear canal prevents earwax from falling out on its own and cause what doctors call cerumen impaction.

earwaxCerumen impaction is a buildup of earwax in the ear canal. Unusual ear canal shape can be a factor in cerumen impaction, but the use of Q-tips and ear plugs makes you more prone to cerumen impaction. Both Q-tips and earplugs push ear wax down into the ear canal. With the constant use of these things, the wax will continue to build up and get stuck in the ear canal. If you happen to be one of those people that genetically make more earwax than others, you would also be prone to cerumen impaction. Cerumen impaction causes pain, hearing loss, and in some cases dizziness. You may experience itching and ringing as well.

Cerumen impaction is not something you can remove on your own. It has to be removed by a physician. Attempting to remove the earwax on your own may cause more damage and lead to a perforated eardrum.  Cerumen impaction is diagnosed in the doctor’s office by an otoscope. With this instrument, the doctor can look inside the ear and see if there is any wax build up. The doctor can remove the cerumen in office.

Earwax Removal

Earwax removal can be done with several different methods. The easiest method is the use of ear drops. Over the counter ear drops are used to soften up the ear wax and eventually drain it out. If you see your physician about the problem, they will remove the earwax in office. One method of choice is a curet. The curet is an instrument that has a curved tip that works well for breaking up and removing the wax without damaging the eardrum.

Another method is to flush the earwax out. With this approach, the doctor uses a water bulb syringe and fills it with warm water. The end of the syringe is placed in the ear, and the doctor will squeeze the bulb and shoot water into the ear. The pressure of the water will release the wax. The doctor will have you tilt your head to drain the water and wax out.  

A known but not recommended procedure is ear candling. This method requires the use of beeswax and fire. I’m sure those two words alone induces fear. A cone with wax on one end is placed into the ear. On the other end, someone must hold a lighter and try to melt the wax. The theory is that the flame creates a vacuum that will draw wax out of the ear. This method is one you should stay away from because it can result in injury.

Earwax Complications

Cerumen impaction may result in outer or inner ear infections. Earwax captures dirt and bacteria, therefore if it is impacted in the ear, the bacteria may come in contact with the fluid in the ear and lead to ear infections. It can also cause a perforated eardrum. If the cerumen is too impacted, it may put too much pressure on the ear creating a hole. If the cerumen is continually pushed deeper into the eardrum, it will also make a perforation in the eardrum. One of the most serious complications of earwax impaction is hearing loss. The impaction will damage the ear’s ability to convert sound vibrations into signals. If earwax persists, you may have to start a medication regimen.
Earwax has many benefits. It helps protect the ear from bacteria as well as lubricates the ear. It is good to clean your ears but in most cases the earwax will fall out on its own. To prevent earwax impaction be sure not to use Q-tips to clean your ears. Q-tips may clean the external part of the ear, but it will cause the wax deeper in the ear canal to be impacted. When earwax continues to build up, it may cause damage. If you are a person that produces a lot of wax you may need ear drops to prevent impaction. For most people cerumen impaction is not a big issue. Hopefully, you will be able to see earwax in a different way. You may have initially thought it was gross but knowing that it has purpose may change your view.

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