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. Though wax is not a problem, excess wax is. Professional help must always be taken for wax cleaning.
Earwax is medically called cerumen, which is a natural secretion and has 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.
Normally, earwax occurs as fine flakes which fall off during jaw movements while chewing. But, it may accumulate in the ear due to various reasons. The existing cerumen will usually fall out of the ear naturally.
Excessive earwax can build up in the canal either because the person tends to produce hard wax or pushes 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 the use of 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:
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).
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.
Odor coming from the ear.
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 based on the genetics.
Wet earwax comes in a range of colors, including 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 people with dry earwax because a chemical that makes a sweat smell is not present in dry earwax.
Dry earwax is likely to be whitish 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 your healthcare provider.
Dry earwax is seen in people of Asian, East Asian, and Native American descent.
A doctor can diagnose earwax blockage by listening to the patient's symptoms and then looking into the ear with an otoscope (ear scope).
If you feel that you have excess earwax in your ears, never try to remove it on your own with a cotton bud or any other object. This can damage your eardrum or push the wax further into the internal ear.
If the earwax causes only mild symptoms, you can get over-the-counter ear drop from the pharmacy to help soften the earwax and make it fall out naturally.
The different types of ear drops available include drops containing sodium bicarbonate, almond oil, and olive oil.
However, some ear drops may not be suitable for everyone and can irritate the skin.
Ear Drops are contraindicated in a perforated eardrum (a hole or tear in the eardrum).
Talk to your pharmacist about the ear drops suitable for you, and do not forget to read the leaflet that comes with them.
Consult with your doctor for earwax blockage if you have symptoms like:
An ear pain.
Whitish or greenish discharge.
Blood in earwax.
A feeling of blockage or fullness in your ears.
Itching in your ear.
Pain when touching your ear.
Ringing in your ear (tinnitus).
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: Your healthcare professional can clean the blocked ears using special and sterilized instruments. Do not try cleaning by yourselves as it can cause an injury to your eardrums.
Syringing: In this procedure, the health care provider will flush your ear canal with warm saline or water. This is a quick and painless procedure where an electric pump pushes water or warm saline into the ear and wash the earwax out.
Microsuction: A quick and painless procedure where a small device is used to suck the 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.
Do not put earbuds or bobby pins into your ears. This will push the earwax deeper and can even traumatize your eardrum.
Do not pour hot oil into the ear canal as it can damage your eardrum.
Do not use cold water to clean your ears, as it can cause vertigo.
Using earphones for prolonged periods can push the wax deeper into the ear canal, making it difficult to remove.
You can prevent earwax blockage by avoiding cotton-tipped swabs (like Q-tips) and other objects that push the wax further into the ear canal.
Problems can happen if earwax is not removed carefully and correctly. These include:
Outer ear infection (swimmer's ear).
Permanent hearing loss from acoustic trauma.
Last reviewed at:
01 Sep 2021 - 5 min read
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