The canals in our ears are lined with hair follicles as well as glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen, or ear wax. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and protects it by attracting and gathering foreign debris like dirt and dust, bacteria, and various microbes. A further purpose of ear wax is to protect the delicate skin of the ear canal if it is exposed to water; Thus, the creation of ear wax is both normal and healthy.
Ordinarily, ear wax makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it comes out by itself can be removed when we rinse out our ears. But, the glands in certain people’s ears produce more wax than usual. As a result, the wax accumulates and may harden, blocking the ear canal and preventing sound waves from getting to your inner ear. For that reason, the buildup of excess ear wax is, for people of every age, one of the most common causes of hearing difficulties.
Signs of ear wax blockage normally include earaches, a sense that the ear is closed up, a persistent ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial loss of hearing, which seems to get gradually worse. This is a form of conductive (rather than sensorineural) hearing loss, where the sound waves are blocked from getting to the eardrum. Hearing loss brought on by excess ear wax, happily, can be easily diagnosed and treated.
If the symptoms listed above sound familiar to you, see us in our clinic where any of our team members can do pain-free assessments to see whether you do in fact have an excess accumulation of ear wax. If it is, an excessive build-up of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the office.
If an audiologist says that you have excessive ear wax that is blocking your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it by yourself at home. One of the things not to attempt, however, is to use a Q-tip or cotton swab, which tends to just compact the ear wax, not get rid of it. A much better home treatment is to add drops of mineral oil, glycerin, baby oil, or commercial ear drops to each ear, let them loosen the wax build-up, and then wash it out using water at body temperature. (Hot or cold water can cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) Drug stores offer small bulb-like syringes which you can use to flush the ear after the wax has been loosened, assisting the process. Do not try to use a WaterPik or other jet irrigator created for the teeth because the force of the spray could harm the eardrum, and do not try any form of irrigation at home if you know that your eardrum has been punctured.
If this doesn’t seem to work to clear up the accumulation of ear wax, come visit us.