Earwax, known as cerumen, is a thick sticky liquid produced by sebum or oil secreting glands in the skin of the ear canal. Why does the ear produce wax?
• Traps flies, dust, dirt, pollen, tiny insects and bacteria hence protecting the inner ear.
• It has special chemicals which have been shown to maintain the acid balance and pH in the ear canal, therefore fights ear infections.
• It has been shown to lubricate and keep the ear clean.
Our ears shed dead skin daily and with this self cleaning process soft wax also falls out of the ears daily. We therefore advise our clients when showering to use a soft cloth and just clean the outer surface of the ears. In some people they do experience a build -up of earwax. This is known as wax or cerumen impaction. This occurs when several layers of wax or dead skin accumulate inside the ear and harden. This therefore causes, blockage of the ear with reduced hearing. Other symptoms may include:
• Fluctuating or muffled hearing
• Ear pain
• Aural fullness
• Ringing sound in the ears.
Are there people who are predisposed to producing more wax than others?
Yes. The older people (geriatrics), people with hearing aids or ear plugs, people with naturally oily or dry skin.
Are q-tips the ideal way to remove ear wax?
No. q-tips can very easily injure the skin in the ear canal or injure the ear drum resulting in perforation of the ear drum. We do not recommend insertion of anything into the ear. That includes sticks, pens or biro because of this. Secondly the cotton in the q-tip can become a foreign body in the ear and thirdly q-tips do push the wax further inside the ear canal.
One can buy wax softening drops from the pharmacy and use them for 3-5 days. As the name suggests these drops soft the wax which can then fall of on its own. However anyone with a perforated ear drum must NOT use these drops without consulting their otolaryngologist.
Impacted wax is removed in the clinic either by direct curettage or gentle lavage using warm water. This is an office-based procedure which is generally painless. In certain conditions removal of wax may be removed under anaesthesia especially in children who are very apprehensive or people with very impacted wax which is not responding to ear drops and which is painful to lavage in the clinic.
For more difficult cases, please contact our office and schedule an appointment to have one of our otolaryngologists remove your earwax build-up.