Does a clogged ear annoy you? Do you always feel the urge to use a cotton swab or toothpick to remove earwax?
Be careful as you may be damaging your ear.
I have often seen patients with excessive earwax or blocked ears trying to remove it with a home-made contraption or earbuds.
I thought I would briefly discuss what earwax is and list a few simple tips to remove earwax safely.
What Is Earwax?
People tend to think that ear wax, also known as cerumen, is unwanted and needs to be removed.
However, cerumen is actually very beneficial!
It acts as a barrier to prevent entry of dust, hair or tiny insects into the ear. The presence of ear wax is normal as it possesses both antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Our ears are self-cleaning in nature; the excess wax falls out when there is shedding of the outer skin layer of the ear canal. This is aided by jaw movement as well.
However, some factors like previous ear surgery or trauma, frequent ear infections (especially those with diabetes), or usage of hearing aids can alter the quantity of cerumen produced by ears.
Studies have found that nearly 6% of the general population suffer from impacted earwax. Of this, around 30% are elderly patients or those with cognitive impairment.
Why Does Earwax Get Impacted?
The most common reason is excessive production. The quantity of earwax produced exceeds the rate at which it is removed from the ear canal, leading to accumulation.
Another reason could be any blockages within the ear canal, such as bony tumors or polyps. Hearing aids can also lead to wax accumulation.
Infections are notorious causes. For example, a middle ear infection with fluid build-up in space behind the eardrum or viral infection of the inner ear are well known causes of impacted earwax.
Symptoms Of Earwax Impaction
Most patients will not have symptoms.
However, a select few will notice poorer hearing, giddiness and pain in the ear. Itching may be an associated symptom.
The Safe Way To Remove Earwax
Earwax removal has to be done safely. Aggressive attempts to remove earwax can damage the eardrum, lacerate the ear canal and can lead to infection in patients with diabetes.
Here are some simple methods to remove your earwax safely.
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Ear Cleaning Drops
OTC ear drops containing hydrogen peroxide, or other kinds of peroxide work best for removing a small amount of ear wax.
These may not be widely available in India though.
The proper way to use ear cleaning drops is to add a directed number of drops using the dropper into the ear while lying sideways and allowing it to sit in the ear for about five minutes.
The peroxide present in these drops softens and breaks the ear wax.
This dislodged ear wax drains off once you sit up, which should be cleaned gently using a tissue/cloth.
Ear cleaning drops are ineffective in case of impacted cerumen if your ear canal is blocked with a firm wax plug or if you have too much ear wax.
The peroxide does more damage than good in such a scenario as it softens the plug without dissolving it. This softened plug sticks into the ear canal, making things even worse.
If worried, consult an ENT surgeon who will help you remove stubborn wax.
A bulb syringe is the next resort if cleaning drops don’t work.
A syringe tip is placed near the ear, and the bulb is squeezed gently to flush a stream of water into the ear.
The water temperature should be neither too cold nor too hot and closely monitored; otherwise, it may cause dizziness.
If you have a hole in your eardrum or have ever undergone eardrum surgery, avoid using bulb syringes as it can harm the eardrum’s healing process.
If you don’t feel comfortable flushing your ears, try contacting your health care provider’s office to see if they can assist you.
I personally would advise you to avoid this method as it is best done by experts.
The image below depicts how a doctor might remove your earwax.
Mineral Or Olive Oil
The use of oil lubricates the ear canal, facilitating easy ear wax removal. Some suggest avoiding this measure as well.
Earwax Cleaning Remedies To Avoid
Did you know: A cotton swab package itself carries this warning: ‘Do not insert the swab into the ear canal.’
A cotton swab functions like a ramrod in an old-style cannon. The tip pushes the ear wax further into the ear canal; thus, the more you use it, the more ear wax you push in.
Furthermore, if you push too hard to remove earwax that is deeper in the ear canal, the risk of rupturing your eardrum increases.
The risk of infiltration and infection of the ear canal by dirt and bacteria increases if you scratch your ear canal.
Earwax Removal Candles
One should always refrain from ear candling as there is no scientific evidence supporting its efficiency, and there is a high risk that it may burn you.
Is There Really A Need To Remove Earwax?
Earwax is actually protective and does not need removing. Most of the times it falls out of the ear by itself, once sufficient amounts have built up.
Sometimes though the ear wax production can be excessive, clogging your ear canal. This is particularly common in people who wear hearing aids.
It is possible that ear clogging persists after using home remedies. You may have trouble hearing as the earwax becomes like an insulation pad.
In that case, it is advisable to seek medical advice.
The doctor will check if the ear canal is open or the wax plug is blocking it. You might be able to get your ears unblocked straight away if the case is minor.
If not, a doctor may magnify within the ear canal with an operating microscope, release the wax, and vacuum it out.
A doctor can identify the underlying cause and provide suitable treatment in such circumstances preventing permanent hearing loss.
Earwax is protective. The body has its own mechanism to remove it. Do not attempt to remove it using cotton buds and other things your hands can reach.
If the wax is stuck or your experience hearing difficulties, visit your doctor.