What is ear wax?
The ear canal is lined with hair
follicles and glands that produce a waxy oil called cerumen. This protects the
ear by trapping dust, microorganisms, and other foreign particles, preventing
them from entering and damaging the ear. The wax usually makes its way to the
opening of the ear where it falls out or is removed by washing.
In some people, the glands produce more wax than can be easily excreted from the
ear. This extra wax may harden within the ear canal and block the ear. More
commonly, the ear canal may be blocked by wax when attempts to clean the ear
push wax deeper into the ear canal and cause a blockage.
Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.
What Are the Symptoms of Wax Buildup?
* partial hearing loss, may be progressive
* tinnitus, noises in the ear
* fullness in the ear or a sensation the ear is plugged
How is ear wax treated?
Ear drops alone will often clear a plug of wax. You can buy drops from
pharmacies. For example, sodium bicarbonate, almond oil, or olive oil ear drops.
Warm the drops to room temperature before using them. (Let the bottle stand in
the room for about half an hour.) Pour a few drops into the affected ear. Lie
with the affected ear uppermost when putting in drops. Stay like this for 2-3
minutes to allow the drops to soak into the wax. The wax is softened, and it
often breaks up if you put drops in 3-4 times a day for 5-7 days. Flakes or
crusts of wax usually fall out bit by bit.
This may be needed if ear drops do not work. Syringing will usually clear wax.
But, it will usually only work if the plug of wax has been softened. Therefore,
use ear drops to soften wax 2-3 times a day for five days prior to syringing.
Ear syringing is usually painless. Lukewarm water is squirted into the ear
canal. This dislodges the softened plug which then falls out with the water.
Some people feel dizzy after ear syringing, but this quickly settles. Some
people develop an inflammation in the ear canal following ear syringing. This
causes itch and discomfort, but can be treated with ear drops. Rarely, ear
syringing can cause serious damage to the ear or eardrum.
Ear syringing may not be advised if you have certain ear problems. In
particular, if you:
* Have had surgery for some types of ear problems.
* Have recurring infection of the ear canal (recurring otitis externa).
* Have or have had a perforated ear drum.
* Are deaf in your other ear (as there is a very small risk that syringing can
cause deafness in your good ear and so make you deaf in both ears.) Your doctor
will prescribe some wax softening drops and call you back after a few days.
Sometimes removal of the wax may
require to be done with viewing through a microscope and under short
anaesthesia. This may be more commonly needed for children as it is important
that the child should not move during the procedure [movement could lead to
injury of the ear drum].
Can you prevent ear wax from blocking your ear?
Put baby oil or olive oil into the ear on a regular basis. Put in the drops, let
it sit in there for a few minutes, then lie down on a towel to let it drip out
again. Probably only a few drops every week in each ear is good enough (nobody
has done a research study on this). It doesn't hurt to put a few drops of clean
olive oil or baby oil into each ear every day. Swimmers often do this prior to
their daily swim. However, be sure that the oil is clean, as you don't want to
introduce bacteria. This should not be done if you have an eardrum perforation
or if you don't know whether or not you have a perforation.
Another method is to have your ear cleaned out by your doctor on a regular
basis. Everyone builds up wax at their own rate, but commonly people need to
come back for wax removal at 6 month or 1 year intervals.