Earwax – we all have it. Although it may look a little disgusting, it is a healthy and normal part of our bodies and an important key to good hearing health. Let’s explore the topic a little deeper.
Earwax is also known as cerumen. It is produced by glands in your ear canal as an antibacterial self-cleaning agent for your ears.
Earwax gathers up dead skin cells, hair, dust and dirt that have entered the ear canal. Earwax usually travels out of your ear naturally, and as it does, it removes all debris with it. Without this natural process, you would be at a much higher risk of infection, hearing problems and earaches.
Earwax also provides lubrication for your ear canal, and protects its sensitive skin from water and bacteria. If your ears feel dry and itchy, it may be a sign that you have too little wax in your ears.
The short answer is no – not if you have a normal amount of earwax. You can clean the outer part of your ear using a damp cloth, but you should never push anything into your ear canal.
Many people use cotton swabs to remove earwax, but this can cause real damage to the inner ear. It’s tempting to push cotton swabs deep into the ear when trying to clean. In fact, earwax is actually produced in the outer third of the ear canal. As a result, the cotton swab actually pushes wax further into the ear, leading to blockage, injury and even temporary deafness.
Under normal conditions, your inner ear cleans itself. Earwax travels naturally along the ear canal, helped by the movement of your jaw as you chew and talk. It will dry up, flake and fall out of the ear in small pieces, or wash out when you bathe or shower.
Sometimes earwax production can become excessive, leading to a build-up. This can also happen if you use cotton swabs to clean your ears.
Around 12 million people in the US suffer from impacted earwax every year. An earwax build-up can block the entrance to your ear and prevent sound from entering, leading to temporary deafness. It can also cause tinnitus
(ringing in the ears), earaches, infections, itching, or discharge or odors from the ear.
If you suspect that you have an earwax build-up, the first step is to try eardrops. Eardrops are usually made from sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate or a natural oil, and can be bought over-the-counter from any pharmacy. Eardrops will soften the wax build-up, which will naturally break up and fall out in pieces over a few days.
If eardrops do not work, you should consult your doctor. They may recommend you try ear syringing or irrigation. This can be performed by your doctor, or done at home using an over-the-counter kit. If you have diabetes, a perforated eardrum or a weak immune system, you should not try ear syringing.
Your doctor can also refer you to a specialist called an otolaryngologist. They can manually remove earwax using suction and precision tools. This method is preferable if you have any of the health conditions mentioned above.
If you are experiencing hearing loss
, contact us at Puget Sound Hearing
. With a hearing exam and ear examination, will be able to identify why you are experiencing hearing loss, and suggest interventions and treatment.