What most people call ear wax occurs because our ear canals are lined with hair follicles and glands that generate an oily wax called cerumen. This wax lines the interior surface of the ear canal and helps to protect it by attracting and collecting alien debris such as dust and dirt, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Another reason for ear wax is to defend the hypersensitive skin of the ear canal if it is exposed to water.
There is nothing unnatural or unhealthy about ear wax or the creation of it.
In most people, ear wax eventually makes its way to the external areas of the ear, where it either falls out or is rinsed away when we clean our ears. In some people, however, the glands in their ear canals make more ear wax than is usual. The excess ear wax can build up in the ear canal and become hard, resulting in a blockage which keeps sound waves from reaching your eardrum. The buildup of ear wax is among the most widespread causes of hearing loss, in people of any age.
Indications of ear wax obstruction include earaches, a sensation that the ear is clogged up, a constant ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial hearing loss, which seems to get steadily worse. This is a type of conductive (rather than sensorineural) hearing loss, in which the sound waves are impeded from reaching the eardrum. Fortunately, these grounds for hearing loss are readily diagnosed and treated.
If the symptoms in the list above sound familiar to you, see us in our office where any of our hearing care specialists can do pain-free assessments to see whether you do in fact have an excess build-up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal accumulation of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the clinic.
If an audiologist tells you that you have excessive ear wax which is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it yourself right at home. One thing not to attempt, however, is to use a cotton swab or Q-tip, which tends to just compress the ear wax, not remove it. Instead, add a few drops of glycerin, baby oil, mineral oil, or commercial ear drops designed for this purpose to each ear, let them remain in the ear for a couple of minutes to loosen up the wax, and then wash the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Please note: using either cold and hot water to flush your ears can cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To rinse out the ear drops, look at purchasing one of the bulb-shaped syringes sold by drug stores, which are intended to make the irrigation procedure simpler and easier. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator like a WaterPik because its spray is too powerful and might cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any type of irrigation at home if you know for sure that you have a punctured eardrum.
If these home remedies don’t seem to solve the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.