Ear Wax Basics: Excessive Ear Wax Can Actually Impact Your HearingPublished Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 4:59 pm
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The canals in our ears are covered with hair follicles as well as glands that produce an oily wax known as cerumen, or ear wax. This wax lines the interior surface of the ear canal and protects it by attracting and gathering foreign debris such as dirt and dust, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Ear wax also helps to avoid irritation when the sensitive skin of the ear canal is in contact with water; There is nothing abnormal or unhealthy about ear wax or the production of it.
Typically, ear wax slowly makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it falls out by itself can be removed when we rinse out our ears. However, the glands in certain people’s ears make more wax than usual. As a result, the wax builds up and may harden, blocking the ear canal and keeping sound waves from reaching your inner ear. The build-up of ear wax is one of the most widespread grounds for hearing problems, in persons of any age.
The signs of ear wax blockage include things like earaches, a feeling that the ear is closed up, a consistent ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial loss of hearing, which has a tendency to get steadily worse. This is a type of conductive (rather than sensorineural) hearing loss, where the sound waves are blocked from reaching the eardrum. Luckily, this grounds for hearing loss is readily identified and remedied.
If the signs and symptoms mentioned above sound familiar to you, see us in our practice where any of our hearing care specialists can do pain-free assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess build-up of ear wax. If this is the situation, there are simple treatments to clear out the excess ear wax that can be done either at home, or in the clinic.
If a hearing specialist says that you have excess ear wax that is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it yourself at home. One thing not to do, however, is to use a Q-tip, which has a tendency to just compact the ear wax, not get rid of it. A much better home remedy is to add drops of mineral oil, glycerin, baby oil, or commercial ear drops to each ear, allow them to loosen the wax build-up, and then rinse it out using water at body temperature. (Cold or hot water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) Pharmacies sell small bulb-like syringes which you can use 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 might cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any kind of irrigation at home if you know for sure that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this doesn’t seem to work to clear up the buildup of ear wax, come see us.