We all have earwax. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a substance that is found in the outer ear canal. It not only assists in the lubrication and cleaning of the ears but also protects against things like water, bacteria, fungi, and insects from entering the ears.
In most cases, earwax finds its way out of the ears on its own. However, the glands can also make excess wax which may result in the ear becoming blocked as a result (usually due to hardened wax.) Another reason why blocked ears may develop is due to the use of cotton swabs – something that physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary, as well as ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialists, advise against.
Rather than removing wax, cotton swabs can actually push wax deeper into the ear, which can be problematic.
The most common signs of earwax buildup include hearing loss (which can be sudden, but it is usually only temporary), tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears), a feeling of pressure in the ear, as well as an earache. If the buildup of earwax remains unremoved, this can potentially lead to an ear infection.
Signs of an ear infection include:
- Severe pain that doesn’t subside
- Unusual drainage of ear fluid
- Hearing loss
- And even fever
If you have excess earwax, it’s a good idea to get it removed. However, this isn’t something that doctors recommend doing on your own as you could cause permanent damage to the ears – including hearing loss.
There are, however, products that you can purchase and use in an effort to soften earwax that has hardened, including:
- Mineral oil
- Baby oil
- Hydrogen peroxide, and
- Carbamide peroxide.
These specific items will loosen the earwax, help prevent blockage, as well as assist its natural removal.
If you’re still unable to clear wax from your ears by following any of these methods, if your ears feel as though they’re becoming more blocked, or if your ear pain worsens or persists, you should see your family doctor, as he or she will be able to help with earwax removal through irrigation, suction, or by using a curved instrument known as curette.
These in-office earwax removal procedures are generally quick and painless, and hearing will return back to normal almost immediately for most people. However, if you wear hearing aids or frequently use earplugs, or if you have any ear canal deformities, this can be a persisting problem.
If you are someone who has constant problems with accumulation of earwax or has frequent ear infections, your doctor may decide to refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. This is someone who specializes in the anatomy (and diseases) of different areas of the head and neck, including the ears.
Just as a family doctor would, an ENT specialist will also try to irrigate the ears to remove excess wax. In the event that the patient has frequent ear infections, an ENT will sometimes recommend the placement of tubes in the ears.