If you have a practice of cleaning your ears often with cotton buds, you must read this below article.
Cleaning the ears with a cotton bud called Q-tips may feel good, and it might be a very easy and simple technique, but it can also be harmful. It will not only dry out the ear and make the build-up worse, but it will also lead to itchiness, hearing loss, and infections of all kinds.
The three main parts of the ear are the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear is composed of cartilage and skin. The three different parts of the outer ear are:
The ear canal starts from the outer ear to the eardrum. This canal is almost an inch in length. The outer one-third of the canal comprises cartilage, and the inner two-thirds is bone.
The eardrum is also called the tympanic membrane. It is about the size of a ten-cent coin and is the same size in the newborn baby as in the adult.
The space which is present inside the eardrum is called the middle ear. The three of the smallest bones of the body are found in the middle ear. They are the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. These three bones together are medically called the middle ear ossicles.
Earwax is a natural secretion of the ears, which contains dead skin cells and sebum. This sebum is a lubricant secreted by the hair inside the ear. The function of the earwax is to trap the dust entering the ear and prevent it from going deep inside. Wax is produced only in the outer one-third of the ear canal, a hair-bearing area. Earwax is not a waste product, but it is a very beneficial secretion. Newly formed wax is transparent in color, and when oxidized later, it becomes brown or black. Usually, after a few days, this wax is naturally pushed out of the ear canal and falls off while sleeping or taking a bath.
Earbuds are made up of tightly rolled cotton. Using earbuds interferes with the normal self-cleaning mechanisms of the external ear canal. Cleaning induces wax formation, and the wax needs to be cleaned as the build-up interferes with hearing. And this becomes a vicious cycle. The ear loses its capacity to self-clean.
The skin covering the ear canal is very thin, where the outer layers are regularly shed just like skin elsewhere. This is done by slender hair-like structures called cilia present on the surface of the external ear canal.
Any injury to the skin, even a minor trauma like çleaning with earbuds, disturbs the automated wax clearance mechanisms, and the wax gets accumulated. When produced, earwax, a clear fluid, gets oxidized and turns brown or black when collected and, in due course, gets hardened. This hardened wax blocks the ear canal entirely and causes an earache and decreased hearing.
Never use any instruments like safety pins or keys to clean the wax. These can deposit a fungal infection over the injured crevices of the external ear canal. This condition is known as otomycosis. When infected, especially in diabetic patients, it produces severe pain, itching, and a watery discharge, occasionally mixed with blood.
Earbuds increase your risk of ear infections. So the moment the earbuds are inserted into the ear, they can introduce dirt and bacteria into the ears. This can cause allergic reactions, rashes, or even infections. Apart from carrying dirt and bacteria, earbuds can also induce ear wax build-up.
When the earbud is inserted, the wax, which is limited only to the outer part of the ear, will be pushed deeper inside to the place where it cannot be naturally expelled. So after a while, the wax will start accumulating in the ear and goes even deeper by eventually hitting the eardrum. This will make the person hard to hear. Stagnation of this wax for a long time can even infect the eardrum leading to severe pain.
The best way to treat accumulated wax is to use wax-softening ear drops. Once the wax softens, it should be cleaned by a professional using either an ear suction or a syringe. Syringing by yourself is dangerous and can cause a problem in the eardrum. But using wax softening ear drops also does not sometimes help because these wax may absorb the ear drops and swell up, leading to pain and hearing loss. Therefore, you should not do this method at home but visit an ENT specialist who will use appropriate instruments to remove the wax.
While using syringing or wax hooks, many patients may have complaints of pain. With the arrival of microscopes and endoscopes with magnification, wax removal is easy and can be achieved without pain or discomfort. So always visit your ENT specialist, especially the one who has these endoscopes or microscopes.
There is no need to clean your ears regularly because ears have an automatic cleaning mechanism. The skin lining the ear is unique because it is the only skin in the body that can expel wax. Therefore, only a few people tend to accumulate wax even when not using earbuds. Cleaning with earbuds can cause further wax accumulation or may induce infection, so it should always be avoided.
Last reviewed at:
20 Jun 2022 - 3 min read
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