What we call ear wax develops because our ear canals are lined with hair follicles and glands that produce an oily wax called cerumen. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and protects it by attracting and gathering alien debris such as dirt and dust, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Ear wax also helps to prevent irritation when the hypersensitive skin of the ear canal is in contact with water; Thus, the creation of ear wax is both natural and healthy.
In the majority of people, ear wax ultimately makes its way to the outer areas of the ear, where it either falls out or can be washed away when we clean our ears. In certain people, however, the glands in their ear canals generate more ear wax than is normal. The surplus ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and become hard, resulting in a blockage which keeps sound waves from reaching your eardrum. For that reason, the accumulation of surplus ear wax is, for individuals of all ages, among the most common causes of hearing difficulties.
Indications of ear wax obstruction normally include earaches, a sense that the ear is clogged up, a chronic ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial loss of hearing, which has a tendency to get steadily worse. This is a form of conductive (rather than sensorineural) hearing loss, where the sound waves are blocked from reaching the eardrum. Thankfully, this cause of hearing loss is readily diagnosed and remedied.
For those who have suffered some or all of the symptoms above, come in to our office where our hearing care specialists can quickly and painlessly check to see if the cause is a build up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal buildup of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the clinic.
If a hearing specialist diagnoses you as having earwax blockage, there are things you can do in your own home to remove it. One of the things not to attempt, however, is to use a cotton swab or Q-tip, which has a tendency to just compact the ear wax, not remove it. Alternatively, add a couple of drops of glycerin, baby oil, mineral oil, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, let them remain in the ear for a few minutes to loosen 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.) Pharmacies offer small bulb-like syringes that can be used to irrigate the ear after the wax has been loosened, facilitating the process. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator like a WaterPik because its spray is too strong and can cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any form of irrigation at home if you know for sure that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this does not seem to work to clear up the accumulation of ear wax, come visit us.