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Here Is What You Need to Know About Earwax

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Here Is What You Need to Know About Earwax

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Wax is a natural secretion of the ceruminous and sebaceous glands found in the ear canal. It protects the eardrum from infections, trauma, and water.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At September 18, 2017
Reviewed AtMarch 28, 2024

Introduction

Earwax is medically called cerumen, a natural secretion with antibacterial and lubricant properties. It also protects the eardrum from infections, trauma, and water. Some people produce soft wax, while others produce hard wax. This is genetically determined.

Earwax is fine flakes that fall off during jaw movements while chewing. However, it may accumulate in the ear for various reasons. The existing cerumen will usually fall out of the ear naturally.

What Causes Excessive Earwax to Form?

  • Excessive earwax can build up in the canal because the person tends to produce hard wax or push the wax deeper into the canal using earbuds and other objects.

  • It can cause pain, hearing problems, itching, ringing sensations in the ear, heaviness, ear fullness, and ear discharge. Treatment options include wax softening agents, instrumentation, and syringing.

  • Self-cleaning of the wax buildup should always be avoided, as it may cause trauma to the eardrum. Always seek help from a professional ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor for wax cleaning.

The other factors that increase the risk of too much earwax may include:

  • Production of hard or dry earwax.

  • Narrow or hairy ear canals.

  • Older adults tend to have dry earwax.

  • Bony growths in the external part of the ear canal.

  • Frequent insertion of objects in the ear canal, like cotton buds, earplugs, or hearing aids, can cause blockage of ears by the earwax.

Symptoms of Excess Earwax Buildup:

  • Pain: Wax is the most common cause of earache.

  • Hearing Problem: Wax buildup can cause hearing problems due to mechanical obstruction. Deafness may also be precipitated when water enters the ear during a bath to swell the wax.

  • Itching: Earwax impaction can cause ear irritation and itchiness.

  • Ringing Sensation In The Ear: It is also known as tinnitus. The ringing can be intermittent or continuous.

  • Vertigo (feeling dizzy and sick).

  • Hearing loss.

  • Plugged or Fullness Sensation: Trying to clean the ears often pushes the earwax further into the canal, causing a blockage.

  • Ear Discharge: Discharge and odor follow an ear infection caused by improper wax removal methods.

  • Decreased hearing.

  • Dizziness.

  • Cough.

  • Fever.

  • Odor comes from the ear.

Does the Color Of The Earwax Signify Anything?

Healthy earwax may occur in a different range of colors, and each denotes a color that does have meaning. The earwax can be wet or dry, depending on the genetics.

Wet Earwax:

  • various colors are present in ear wax, like light yellow, orange-brown, and honey-colored. Wet earwax is sticky.

  • Wet earwax is usually seen in people of European and African descent.

  • People with wet earwax may need deodorant more than those with dry earwax because a chemical that smells sweat is not present in dry earwax.

Dry Earwax:

  • The color of dry earwax is white or gray and flaky.

  • Darker colored earwax denotes an older earwax. It usually contains dust and has more exposure to the air.

  • If the earwax produces any discharge, whitish or greenish color, or blood in the earwax, consult with the healthcare provider.

  • Dry earwax is seen in people of Asian, East Asian, and Native American descent.

How To Diagnose (Prognosis) Earwax Blockage?

  • A doctor can diagnose earwax blockage by listening to the patient's symptoms and looking into the ear with an otoscope (ear scope).

  • Currently, there is no tool for diagnosing ear wax formation.

  • Physicians may ask about the signs and symptoms, such as difficulty in coordination, ear pain, and hearing loss.

  • Physicians may also check the patient's medical history and perform some exams to test the power of hearing in the ear.

What To Do If People Feel That They Have Excess Earwax?

  • If people feel that they have excess earwax in their ears, never try to remove it alone with a cotton bud or any other object. This can damage the eardrum or push the wax further into the internal ear.

  • If the earwax causes only mild symptoms, an individual can get over-the-counter ear drops from the pharmacy to help soften the earwax and make it fall out naturally.

  • The different ear drops include sodium bicarbonate, almond, and olive oil.

  • However, some ear drops may not suit everyone and can irritate the skin.

  • Ear drops are contraindicated in a perforated eardrum (a hole or tear in the eardrum).

  • Talk with the pharmacist about the ear drops that are suitable for people, and remember to read the leaflet that comes with them.

When To Consult With A Doctor For Earwax Blockage?

Consult with a doctor for earwax blockage if people have symptoms like:

  • An ear pain.

  • Whitish or greenish discharge.

  • Black-colored earwax.

  • Blood in earwax.

  • A feeling of blockage or fullness in the ears.

  • Itching in the ear.

  • Pain when touching the ear.

  • Difficulty hearing.

  • Ringing in the ear (tinnitus).

  • Dizziness.

  • Unexplained cough.

Treatment for Earwax Impaction:

Wax Softening Agents: Several wax-softening agents like mineral oil, baby oil, hydrogen peroxide solution, and wax drops containing paradichlorobenzene, benzocaine, and turpentine oil are available, which soften the wax.

Instrumentation: Healthcare professionals can clean the blocked ears using special and sterilized instruments. Do not try cleaning by themselves as it can cause an injury to the eardrums.

Syringing: In this procedure, the health care provider will flush the ear canal with warm saline or water. This is a quick and painless procedure in which an electric pump pushes water or a mixture of warm saline and water into the ear, cleans the ear wax.

Microsuction: It is a quick and painless method that uses a tiny device to suck earwax out of the ear.

An aural toilet is a thin instrument with a small hoop inserted from one end to clean the ear and scrape out the earwax.

Earcare Tips:

  • Do not put earbuds or bobby pins into the ears. This will push the earwax deeper and can even traumatize the eardrum.

  • Avoid pouring hot oil into the ear canal, as this can harm the eardrum.

  • Do not use cold water to clean the ears, as it can cause vertigo.

  • Long-term use of earphones can push wax into the ear canal, making removal more difficult.

How To Prevent Earwax?

  • People can avoid earwax blockage by staying away from cotton-tipped swabs (such as Q-tips) and some other objects that push wax deeper into the ear.

  • Reduce the cleaning of the ear.

  • Using cotton buds can damage the ear canal.

  • Physicians may remove the wax using techniques like a section device.

What Are the Complications of Earwax?

Problems can happen if earwax is not removed carefully and correctly.

These include:

  • Perforated eardrum.

  • Middle-ear infection.

  • Outer ear infection (swimmer's ear).

  • Permanent hearing loss from acoustic trauma.

Conclusion

Though wax is not a problem, excess wax is. Professional help must always be sought for wax cleaning. Generally, ears produce wax, which kills the microorganisms and protects the tissues. Excessive wax can lead to hearing problems. So, maintaining the ear with less wax enhances hearing. Using warm water in the ears at home can help clean up the excess wax. Microsuction is a new method recently used to remove the wax.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What to Know About Earwax?

Earwax gets blocked when it builds up in the ear and becomes too hard to get washed normally. Earwax is a natural or helpful part of body defense. It coats, protects, and cleans the ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the action of bacteria growth.

2.

What Is the Main Cause of Ear Wax Development?

 
The earwax in the ear is made from the skin glands of the outer ear canal. The tiny hair and wax in the passages trap material and dust that damages the inner parts of the ear, like the eardrum. In some people, a small amount of earwax makes a smooth opening to the way.

3.

Should the Wax in the Ear Be Cleaned?

Cleaning the ear wax is unnecessary as it is self cleansable. No such maintenance is required. Doctors suggest that anything should not be inserted into the ears as it can push the earwax inside.

4.

How to Clean Wax From the Ears?

The ear wax can be softened by using warm mineral oil. It can also be mixed with hydrogen peroxide in an equal amount at room temperature. Two drops of this fluid are warmed to the body temperature and applied in the ear twice a day for at least five days.

5.

What Colour of Ear Wax Should Be?

Earwax is usually amber-orange to light brown, sticky, and wet. In some people, it is lighter in color and closer to yellow or off-white. The earwax darkens with age. Adults tend to have harder and darker ear wax.

6.

How Often Should Ears Be Cleaned?

The ear should be cleaned after every two to four weeks. The safest way to remove the ear wax is to visit the doctor for earwax removal. The doctor uses special instruments like forceps, cerumen spoons, or suction devices to clear or empty the blockage. Some clinics also offer professional irrigation for ear wax removal.

7.

What Helps in Dissolving Earwax Fast?

The earwax can be loosened or softened with warm mineral oil. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used and mixed in equal amounts. Two drops of fluid are warmed to body temperature two times a day for up to five days.

8.

What Happens if a Person Does not Clean Their Ear for Years?

Excessive earwax can build up and harden, which leads to blockage in the ear and causes improper hearing. If impacted ear wax is left untreated in the canal for a longer period of time can lead to permanent hearing loss. However, ear wax is self-cleansing.

9.

Why Does Ear Cleaning Feels So Good?

Ears are filled with nerve endings, and stimulation via cotton buds can trigger some kind of visceral pleasure. It feels hygienic to a person. Some people feel pleasure when the earbud tickles around the ear.

10.

How to Clean Earbuds in Shower?

The ears can be cleaned in the shower using soap and warm water. After the hair washing, the outer ear can be wiped using a washcloth. The ear should also be cleaned from behind.

11.

Is It Bad to Wash Ears in Shower?

When the water gets trapped inside the ear canal, the person is at higher risk of developing an ear infection. This infection is also known as the swimmer’s ear or otitis externa. Warm water can be used to wash ears while taking a shower.

12.

Can Earwax Lead To Memory Loss?

Earwax cannot lead to memory loss. It can sometimes cause excessive ear wax accumulation, leading to improper hearing loss. Itching, dizziness, and ringing in the ear can occur in the ear, which is common.

13.

Is It Okay to Spray Water On Ears?

If the ears are sprayed with water, the person may experience nausea and dizziness. If any side effects occur, the irrigation should be stopped. Possible severe side effects are perforation, middle ear damage, and otitis externa (refers to infection of the outer ear canal caused by bacteria).

14.

Does A Person Gets More Ear Wax as He Ages?

As the person ages, the gland inside the ear leads to earwax formation called cerumen. It becomes harder and drier. It appears to be darker in color with age.

15.

What Problems Are Caused by Ear Wax?

Earwax has both antibacterial and lubricating properties. Untreated wax buildup can cause hearing loss, pain in the ear, dizziness, ringing in the ear, and other problems. Earwax can also lead to cough in a few cases.
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Dr. Kumar Ashutosh
Dr. Kumar Ashutosh

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)

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ear painhearing problemstinnitus
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