Do you have earwax? What do you do with it? Have you noticed that since you started wearing hearing aids in your ears all day long that you seem to be building up more ear wax? We all have it. Some people produce more ear wax than others. In comparison, 1 in 10 children, 1 in 20 adults, and 1 in 3 older adults in the United States have excessive or impacted earwax. (Clinical Practice Guideline. Otolaryngology-Head Neck Surgery 201: 156:14) Earwax or the medical term "Cerumen" is produced by sloughed-off skin cells and secretions from the sebaceous and apocrine sweat glands (ceruminous glands) in the ear canal. Ear wax can thus be of different consistency. It may be dry and hard or perhaps flaky. It can also be wet and thick like honey. As ear wax remains in the ear and dries out it may become hard and impacted. It's one of those things that we may not know we have. After all, we can't see inside of our ears. In the United States, cerumen accumulation leads to over 12 million patient visits and 8 million cerumen removal procedures annually. (JAMA 2008)
Ear wax protects the skin of our ear canal from bacteria, fungi, insects, and bacteria. It is a natural lubricant and can aid in "self-cleaning' of the ear canal. However, sometimes it causes hearing problems if it becomes impacted or excessive. So, what do you do? Guidelines released by the American Academy of Otolaryngology in January 2017 give a little insight. First, don't use q-tips or cotton swabs, you can't see what you are doing, and you may push it down to the eardrum. If too much wax gets impacted at the eardrum it won't vibrate properly thus impeding your hearing. The cotton swabs may also irritate the skin and make it vulnerable to bacteria and infections. Use a soft washcloth to wipe out the ear entrance of your ear canal. If you know for certain that you do not have any holes in your eardrum you can also let warm water from the shower run in your ear canal as a rinse. Some people that have dry flaky wax may benefit from a drop of mineral oil formula or olive oil formula as weekly maintenance. Ask your hearing care provider if these are safe options for you. These new Guidelines also specifically state that "ear candling" is a procedure that patients should not do. There have been cases of external burns, ear canal obstruction from candle wax, and perforated eardrums.
I have many patients that use cotton swabs, ear candles, fingernails, paper clips, toothpicks, car keys, and LOTS of things that should NEVER go in your ear. If you feel blocked up, have ear pain, or ringing ears these symptoms may be caused by earwax blocking your canal. Don't stick something in your ear... Go see your hearing health care provider. To Hear Better Is To Live Better!