Why Do We Have Ear Wax?
There are glands in the skin of the ear canal that produce cerumen. Cerumen moisturizes and protects the skin of the ear canal. Sometimes wax accumulates in the ear canal causing an impaction. When this happens, the hearing in the ear deteriorates as the wax acts as an ear plug. Normally, the ear cleans itself by pushing the old wax out of the ear canal opening. Unfortunately, not all ears consistently do that which may lead to impaction.
How Should You Clean Your Ears?
The short answer is that in general you shouldn’t. Using cotton swabs may get some out, but think of the swab as a cannon plunger. It mostly pushes wax further into the ear, packing it up against the ear drum. Self irrigation kits with wax softening drops may be helpful. However, they must be used very carefully. If the bulb syringe is inserted too far, it may cut the delicate skin of the ear canal. If too much force is used, the ear drum may be ruptured. Using wax softening drops shortly before irrigating will make the irrigation more likely to succeed. If there’s a tube or perforation, irrigation should not be done as may cause an ear infection. Ear candles should never be used. They are dangerous and do not work.
How Often Should Ears Be Cleaned?
Most people never need their ears cleaned. If wax becomes impacted, it will cause hearing loss that may be complete or partial. This is the most common symptom of cerumen impaction. If this happens, it should be cleaned. Other symptoms include an odor or ear drainage, noises called tinnitus in the ear, itching or even pain if there’s associated infection. It should not necessarily be assumed that wax is causing any of these other symptoms.
In any of these cases, you should have an ear exam by a physician to confirm a diagnosis and proceed with the appropriate treatment. Some people have cerumen impaction repeatedly and can be shown how to safely clean their ears by their doctor. Ears with narrow canals, perforated eardrums, tubes and certain other ear conditions should only be cleaned by an ear specialist using instruments and a microscope.
How Can I Prevent Ear Wax Impaction?
There is no way to prevent impaction other than by avoiding attempts at cleaning your ears with cotton swabs. If impaction is a repeated problem, scheduling periodic visits for an ear cleaning before symptoms arise may be helpful.
Advanced Ear, Nose and Throat Care’s board-certified ENT doctors can treat ear wax impaction as well as a variety of other issues of the ear, head, neck, eyes, nose and throat, including silent reflux, ear infections, tonsil and adenoids, sleep disturbance, thyroid nodules and palate surgery as well as nasal polyps, and deviated septum and sleep apnea. We are located in Fairfield County, CT in the towns of Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield and Southbury