What most people call ear wax occurs because our ear canals are lined with hair follicles and glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen. This wax lines the interior surface of the ear canal and helps to protect it by attracting and gathering alien debris like dirt and dust, bacteria, and various microbes. Ear wax also helps to avoid irritation when the hypersensitive skin of the ear canal is in contact with moisture; Thus, the production of ear wax is both normal and healthy.
In most people, ear wax ultimately makes its way to the outer sections of the ear, where it either falls out or is washed away when we wash our ears. However, the glands in certain people’s ears generate more wax than usual. Because of this, the wax collects and can harden, blocking the ear canal and preventing sound waves from getting to your inner ear. The accumulation of ear wax is among the most frequent grounds for hearing problems, in people of all ages.
The symptoms of a blockage caused by excess ear wax may include feeling like your ears are clogged up, hearing a ringing noise (tinnitus), and a partial loss of hearing, which becomes worse as time goes by. This is a kind of conductive (rather than sensorineural) hearing loss, in which the sound waves are blocked from getting to the eardrum. Hearing loss caused by excess ear wax, happily, can be easily diagnosed and remedied.
If you have experienced some or all of the symptoms previously mentioned, come in to our practice where our hearing care specialists can easily and painlessly determine whether the cause is a build up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal accumulation of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the office.
If a hearing specialist tells you that you have excess ear wax that is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it yourself in your own home. One thing not to attempt, however, is to use a cotton swab or Q-tip, which tends to just compress the ear wax, not get rid of it. Alternatively, add a couple of drops of glycerin, baby oil, mineral oil, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, let them remain in the ear for a couple of minutes to loosen the wax, and then wash the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Hot or cold water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) Pharmacies offer small bulb-like syringes that can be used to irrigate the ear after the wax has been loosened, aiding the process. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator such as a WaterPik because its spray is simply too powerful and may cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any kind of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this doesn’t seem to work to clear up the buildup of ear wax, come visit us.