So… who feels like talking about earwax? Didn’t think so. Because it’s not the sexiest conversation-starter on earth, we’ve gone ahead and compiled this straightforward guide to ear care (and spared everyone the awkwardness).
Why all the earwax, anyway?
We know it when we see it, but for many of us earwax remains one of life’s curiosities. Could it be a glandular secretion? Is it just a build-up of external muck? Or do we actually make this stuff for some purpose? The answer is: all of the above. Also known as cerumen, this waxy goo protects the ear canal from bacteria, water and insects, and helps clean and lubricate all the inside bits. Grey, orange, yellow, or even black, it may not look appealing, but earwax is actually pretty useful.
If it’s so useful, why the need to talk about it?
Problems arise when we produce too much wax, or when it gets impacted. And when excess wax goes untreated, it can lead to earache, itching, tinnitus, dizziness and even hearing loss. The known causes of increased earwax are pretty murky, though hearing aids can be a contributing factor – often leading to faults or reduced hearing benefits. Fortunately, our natural jaw movements take care of most of the ear cleaning without any need for intervention. But when our bodies need a bit of maintenance support, there are a range of treatments that are simple, quick and effective. Here’s a rundown of the pros, cons and misconceptions of a range of ear-care methods for when you’re dealing with wax build-up.
Think of this as ear care 101. In most cases, a few drops of baby or mineral oil, peroxide or an over-the-counter chemist eardrop will be sufficient to unclog any wax build-up. Talk to your pharmacist about your symptoms and try the recommended treatment for at least a few days. If you’re unsuccessful here, it’s time to head to your doctor.
Though ear irrigation is possible at home, it’s safer (and cleaner) to get it done by a health professional. Make sure you soften the wax with eardrops for a few days prior to your appointment. The process involves gentle irrigation of the ear canal with warm saline via a syringe. The results can be instant and miraculous.
Manual wax removal using suction is a targeted and effective method, though as it’s usually performed by a specialist audiologist not all medical facilities will offer this option. The treatment involves magnification of the ear canal and using special tools to dislodge compacted wax. For people with diabetes, other ear problems or a weakened immune system, suction can be the safest alternative.
Ear care DON’TS
Did your mum or dad ever tell you never to put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear? They were right. Sharp objects, cotton buds, chopsticks – anything that could navigate your ear canal should NEVER be in the same bodily postcode as your eardrum. We also don’t recommend candling which, while relaxing, carries risk of burns or even the insertion of candle wax INTO your ear. If you’re experiencing symptoms, start with the softeners and progress to your doctor if required. A good rule of thumb is that any effective solution should be simple and safe – no need for naked flames or poking.
To find out more about your hearing health, book a free hearing test.
NHC blog is our place to explore ideas and themes of interest. For professional audiology advice, please contact your local clinic for a consultation.