The canals in our ears are lined with hair follicles as well as glands that create an oily wax called 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 such as dirt and dust, bacteria, and various microorganisms. Ear wax also helps to prevent discomfort when the hypersensitive skin of the ear canal is in contact with water; Thus, the production of ear wax is equally normal and healthy.
Typically, ear wax makes its way to the opening of the ear, where it comes out by itself or is removed when we wash our ears. In some people, however, the glands in their ear canals make more ear wax than is normal. As a result, the wax accumulates and can harden, blocking the ear canal and preventing sound waves from reaching your inner ear. The build-up of ear wax is one of the most commonly seen causes of hearing loss, in persons of any age.
Signs of ear wax blockage include things like earaches, a sense that the ear is stopped up, a chronic ringing noise (tinnitus), and partial loss of hearing, which has a tendency to get progressively more serious. This kind of hearing loss is known as conductive, since the sound waves are hindered from hitting the eardrum, as opposed to sensorineural, as the result of some physiological flaw. Fortunately, this cause of hearing loss is easily identified and treated.
If the symptoms listed above sound familiar to you, see us in our practice where any of our hearing care specialists can do pain-free assessments to see whether you do indeed have an excess build-up of ear wax. If it is, an abnormal accumulation of ear wax is easily treated, either at home or at the office.
If a hearing specialist tells you that you have excess ear wax that is obstructing your ear canal, you can take steps to remove it yourself right at home. Do not try to use a Q-tip, which can cause the ear wax to become even more compacted. Instead, add a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops designed for this purpose to each ear, let them stay in the ear for a couple of minutes to loosen the wax, and then wash the loosened wax out, using body-temperature water. (Cold or hot water may cause feelings of vertigo or dizziness.) Drug stores offer small bulb-like syringes which you can use to irrigate the ear after the wax has been loosened, assisting the process. Two more things not to do are to 1) use a jet irrigator like a WaterPik because its spray is simply too strong and may cause damage to your eardrums, and 2) use any type of irrigation at home if you know for sure that you have a punctured eardrum.
If this does not seem to work to clear up the accumulation of ear wax, come visit us.