Earwax is a normal human secretion called cerumen. Our ears are designed to clean themselves naturally. Unfortunately, in some people, this is not always the case. Earwax can build up and get impacted – impairing your hearing. If built up earwax is bothering you, it’s important to remove it properly so as not to harm yourself.
Earwax, or cerumen, is produced by glands in the skin of the ear canal. Cerumen has a number of important protective properties. It moisturizes the ear canal skin and protects the skin from certain infections.
Wax accumulates in some people due to their efforts to clean their own ears with cotton swabs, shower water, or other things. Hearing aid wearers may have more difficulty with wax accumulating as each time they insert their hearing aid they may be pushing wax that is trying to fall out, further into the ear canal.
Excess earwax is called cerumen impaction. When someone has impacted wax, the hearing may be impaired because it’s blocking the passage of sound through the ear canal much as an earplug would. It may even lead to infection in the skin it should be protecting.
Ear Wax Removal Don’ts
Although there are over the counter products claiming to be for earwax removal, many are difficult to use successfully, and some are actually dangerous. Kits are sold that contain earwax softening drops and irrigating syringes. The drops used alone will soften wax but not remove it, so it will re-harden. The syringe is meant to flush out the wax after using the drops. Since we cannot see into our own ears, flushing water into our ears can be difficult. If not done correctly, it can cause a skin infection or even perforate the eardrum.
One very dangerous device sold to clean ears is the ear candle. This is both unsafe and ineffective. When a burning ear candle is used wax may drip down the hollow candle and burn the ear. The flame also represents a potential hazard since it’s held close to the person’s hair. Ear vacuuming is another method that should not be used. The mini vacuum cleaner for your ears supposedly draws dirt particles and moisture out of the ear. Although, they have been found to be ineffective.
Proper Ear Wax Removal
Physicians have numerous methods to remove earwax safely. Irrigating the ear canal with warm water is one method. You may need to use wax softener drops before irrigating if the impacted wax is very hard. An ear, nose and throat specialist may use various instruments to clean certain ears.
Some people need to have their ears cleaned on a regular basis by an ear, nose and throat professional. This is the exception, not the rule. Some people can be taught to irrigate their ears by themself safely.
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. Our offices are located in Fairfield County, CT in the towns of Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield and Southbury.
– Dr. Jeffrey Monroe