Didn’t think so. As it’s not the best conversation-starter on earth, we’ve gone ahead and compiled this straightforward guide to ear care (and spared everyone the awkwardness).
We know it when we see it, but for many of us ear wax remains one of life’s curiosities. Could it be a glandular secretion? Is it just a buildup 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 parts inside. Grey, orange, yellow, or even black, it may not look appealing, but ear wax is actually pretty useful.
Problems arise when we produce too much wax or when it gets impacted. When excess wax goes untreated, it can lead to earache, itching, tinnitus, dizziness and even hearing loss. The known causes of increased ear wax are pretty murky. Fortunately, our natural jaw movements take care of most of the ear cleaning without any need for intervention.
When our bodies need a bit of maintenance support, there are a range of treatments that are simple, quick and effective in further preventing ear wax buildup. Here’s a rundown of the pros, cons and misconceptions of a range of ear care methods for when you’re dealing with wax buildup.
Think of this as ear care 101. In most cases, a few drops of an over-the-counter chemist eardrop will be sufficient to soften any wax buildup. 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.
Manual ear 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.
Did your mum or dad ever tell you never to put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear? They were right. Anything that could navigate your ear canal, whether it’s sharp objects, cotton buds or chopsticks, should never be in the same bodily postcode as your eardrum. We also don’t recommend ear candling which, while relaxing, carries risk of burns or even the insertion of candle wax into your ear.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of ear wax buildup, 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.