The canals of our ears are covered with hair follicles and glands that create an oily wax called cerumen, or ear wax. The reason for this wax is to line the inner surface of the ear canal and protect it by gathering up bacteria, dust and dirt, and miroorganisms. Another reason for ear wax is to defend the sensitive skin of the ear canal when it is exposed to water; There is nothing unnatural or unhealthy about ear wax or the production of it.
For most people, ear wax gradually makes its way to the external areas of the ear, where it either falls out or is rinsed away when we clean our ears. In a few people, however, the glands in their ear canals produce more ear wax than is normal. Because of this, the wax accumulates and may harden, blocking the ear canal and keeping sound waves from getting to your inner ear. As a result, the accumulation of excess ear wax is, for people of every age, among the most common reasons for hearing loss.
The symptoms of a blockage caused by excess ear wax can include feeling like your ears are stopped up, experiencing a ringing noise (tinnitus), as well as a partial loss of hearing, that worsens with time. This kind of hearing loss is referred to as conductive, since the sound waves are prevented from hitting the eardrum, rather than sensorineural, as the consequence of some physiological flaw. Thankfully, this cause of hearing loss is easily identified and remedied.
If the signs and symptoms in the list above sound familiar to you, see us in our office where any of our hearing care specialists can perform pain-free tests to see whether you do in fact have an excess build-up of ear wax. If this is the situation, there are simple treatments to clear out the surplus ear wax that can be done either at home, or in the clinic.
If a hearing specialist tells you that you have excessive ear wax which is blocking your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it by yourself right at home. Do not attempt to use a Q-tip or cotton swab, which can cause the ear wax to become even more compacted. A better home remedy is to add drops of glycerin, mineral oil, baby oil, or commercial ear drops to each ear, let them loosen the wax build-up, and then wash it out using water at body temperature. (Hot or cold water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To wash out the ear drops, consider buying one of the bulb-shaped syringes offered by pharmacies, which are intended to make the irrigation process 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 type of irrigation at home if you know for certain that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this does not seem to work to clear up the accumulation of ear wax, come see us.