The canals in our ears are lined with hair follicles as well as glands that create an oily wax called cerumen, or ear wax. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and protects it by attracting and collecting foreign debris like dirt and dust, bacteria, and other microorganisms. A further reason for ear wax is to guard the delicate skin of the ear canal if it is exposed to water; Thus, the creation of ear wax is both natural and healthy.
Normally, ear wax slowly makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it comes out on its own or is removed when we rinse out our ears. However, the glands in certain people’s ears make more wax than usual. This surplus ear wax can accumulate in the ear canal and become hard, creating a blockage that keeps sound waves from reaching your eardrum. Consequently, the buildup of excessive ear wax is, for people of all ages, among the most common reasons for hearing loss.
Signs of ear wax obstruction include earaches, a sensation that the ear is stopped up, a constant ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial hearing loss, which has a tendency to get gradually more serious. This type of hearing loss is called conductive, because the sound waves are prevented from hitting the eardrum, rather than sensorineural, as the consequence of some biological defect. Hearing loss brought on by excess ear wax, happily, can be easily identified and treated.
If the symptoms in the list above sound familiar to you, see us in our office where any of our hearing care specialists can do pain-free assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess buildup of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal buildup of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the clinic.
If an audiologist says that you have excessive ear wax that is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it yourself in your own home. Do not attempt to use a cotton swab, which can cause the ear wax to become even more compacted. A much better home treatment is to add drops of mineral oil, glycerin, baby oil, or commercial ear drops to each ear, let them loosen the wax buildup, and then rinse it out using water at body temperature. (Please note: using either hot or cold water to irrigate your ears can lead to feelings of dizziness or vertigo.) To wash out the ear drops, look at purchasing one of the bulb-shaped syringes sold by drug stores, which are designed to make the irrigation procedure simplier and easier. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator such as a WaterPik because its spray is too strong and might cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any kind of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this doesn’t seem to work to get rid of the buildup of ear wax, come visit us.