The canals of our ears are covered with hair follicles as well as glands that produce an oily wax known as cerumen, or ear wax. This wax coats the inner surface of the ear canal and helps to protect it by attracting and collecting alien particles like dust and dirt, bacteria, and various microorganisms. Another purpose of ear wax is to defend the sensitive skin of the ear canal when it is exposed to moisture; Thus, the production of ear wax is both normal and healthy.
For most people, ear wax gradually makes its way to the external areas of the ear, where it either falls out or can be washed away when we clean our ears. But, the glands in certain people’s ears make more wax than normal. This surplus ear wax can build up in the ear canal and harden, resulting in a blockage that hinders sound waves from getting to your eardrum. As a result, the accumulation of surplus ear wax is, for people of all ages, among the most common causes of hearing loss.
Symptoms of ear wax obstruction normally include earaches, a sensation that the ear is closed up, a chronic ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial hearing loss, which has a tendency to get steadily worse. This kind of hearing loss is referred to as conductive, since the sound waves are hindered from hitting the eardrum, rather than sensorineural, as the result of some biological flaw. Luckily, this cause of hearing loss is readily diagnosed and treated.
If the signs and symptoms listed above sound familiar to you, see us in our clinic where any of our team members can perform pain-free tests to see whether you do indeed have an excess buildup of ear wax. If it is, an excessive build-up of ear wax is readily treated, either at home or at the office.
If an audiologist diagnoses you as having earwax blockage, there are steps you can take in your own home to remove it. One important thing not to do, however, is to use a Q-tip or cotton swab, which has a tendency to just compress the ear wax, not remove it. Alternatively, add a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops made for this purpose to each ear, allow them to remain in the ear for a couple of minutes to loosen the wax, and then rinse the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Please note: using either cold and hot water to flush your ears can lead to feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) To wash out the ear drops, look at buying one of the bulb-shaped syringes offered by drug stores, which are designed to make the irrigation procedure easier. Do not try to use a WaterPik or any other jet irrigator created for the teeth because the pressure of the spray could harm the eardrum, and do not attempt any kind of irrigation at home if you believe that your eardrum has been punctured.
If these home treatments don’t manage to clear up the blockage, call or visit us for assistance.